Why Not? Character Profiles

by LimebirdRaven

Mostly, I’m a pantser.  I may have a minimal outline of where I want the story to go, but I let the story unfold as it will.  One thing I do outside the norm for a pantser is create character profiles.  Depending on the size of the characters’ roles, and the depth, I try to write between 2 paragraphs and 2 pages to describe the character physically and emotionally.  

I build a background for the character to explain his/her motivations and dialogue styles.  I keep these in front of me while I’m writing.  I feel this makes for a richer character. It helps to explain the reasons for the decisions the characters make, even if these reasons are not stated outright within the story.  I also think it makes the characters more relate-able.

What do you do to help make characters come to life?

OR, if you don’t currently do anything special, maybe try this and let me know how it works for you.

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21 Comments to “Why Not? Character Profiles”

  1. I kind of do character profiles, more that I just jot down things about them as I think of them so that I have a reference point. At the moment, I kind of let them develop as the story goes (definitely a pantser!) but as I get more and more characters I recognise that I will need to do something, otherwise I shall end up getting them confused! 🙂

    • I definitely have something to remember the smaller characters since there are many and they aren’t integral to the story. Sometimes it is difficult to remember which trait belongs to whom. Ok I have a suckish memory. Mainly the big profiles are for the big characters. For instance, the maid/teacher in my Greek vampire story was not satisfied being just a teacher, though that is what her family had done for generations. They had always taught royalty. She wanted to get outside of the royal houses and learn more about the real world. I will probably never mention this in the story, but it is the reason she often remarks how things are ‘fascinating’ as she discovers all that is involved in the world of magic and vampires.

      • Sounds like a great character and I do agree with you that it’s hard to remember all of their traits. I have to make notes about what they’ve done or not done so that I don’t end up putting them somewhere that they shouldn’t be etc..I am definitely considering coming up with a better system than I currently have! Thanks for the post. 🙂

  2. I think it’s important to have a good idea of your characters as well, but also to let them surprise you. They might also surprise the reader as well. This happens if you’re a pantser like us because situations in your story will unfold and you’ll need to work out how your characters will react and interact.

    • DEFINITELY! My muse is full of surprises and I rarely know exactly what my characters are doing. The profiles are mainly just a way to explain why they chose to do what they did. If I have to change the profile at some point to make it consistent with a new surprise, that is fine, so long as I can justify that this character actually WOULD make that decision and have it make sense to the story and the character.

  3. The characters tend to grow naturally in my head, but I do have to make notes to help me remember everything about them. Especially writing a series.

    • With a series I bet there are a lot more characters to keep up with. I admire your ability to do that! I’m still a novice but that seems like such a huge undertaking!

  4. I do fairly extensive character profiles for my main characters. Usually, I use the creation of these as a break from work on the WIP.

    • That is how I started my first ones, actually. I was stuck on my WIP but I wanted to stay focused. So I worked on the profiles to keep the story in my mind while I was stuck. It helped me find a new direction.

  5. I do this only sporadically, if I feel I don’t “get” a character, or if the character does something that seems out of character. How many times can I use “character” in a sentence?

  6. I work similarly. I create very rough sketches of the character using the template in Scrivener. But mostly I let the character live in my head for a while until they feel familiar.

    • Jessica, I think that is critical to really knowing a character. They need to become real in your head, so you know exactly how they behave.

  7. I like drawing! Seriously, I think sketching a character helps me get a real feel for who they are: playful, simple, sexy, concerned. Their mannerisms in a drawing can say so much about who they are at a given point in the story. I keep a few of these profiles handy whenever I’m writing.

    I like sound, too. I’ll often base a character’s voice on someone I know or have heard. That makes their dialogue sound much clearer in my head and on the page.

    As for more traditional character sketches, I usually start with a few sentences when I’m in the beginning plotting stages. But, my characters have a way of growing so quickly over the course of the story, they often outstrip my original concepts for them.

    I always enjoy looking back at those early plot outlines and drawings. It’s great fun to see how much some of them change, and how many stay the same. 🙂

    • What an excellent tool! I had a friend who made characters on IMVU and kept pictures for each book in her series. I didn’t understand it at the time, but your explanation makes so much sense. And the voices too? You must have some amazing, rich characters!

      I’m really excited about your ideas and can’t wait to try them. I can’t draw for crap, but there are other tools I can use, like what my friend did. Thank you so much for your wonderful ideas and suggestions.

  8. Will do. Thanks! I was looking for a way to approach my character. Never occurred to me that I don’t need to include it, but I do need to know what it is. 😎

  9. I do a brief outline of some key details before I start, but add to this during the break between first and second drafts. I use Scrivener so all the profiles are a click away 🙂

  10. I do like the drawing idea for the characters! I think I might try it. I start with an idea but hen find I end up somewhere very different, regardless how much or how little I have planned.

  11. I do a lot of character building in my head. And once I know their landmines and motives, I write a page outline for the character. I think it’s good to have a clear idea of the heart of your character to make sure his actions are believable and make sense. And if a character goes against his norm, you know you need to explain what drove him to those actions. 🙂

  12. I do character profiles as well.
    For my major characters, I do like you and write down a lot about their personalities, back stories and such, but I have also come to realize that I need a way to keep track of my minor but recurring characters. My biggest problem was actually that I couldn’t remember which eye color I had described them as having or how tall they were compared to my main characters!
    So now I have a list of physical traits as well as when they first appeared in the book. It helps a lot when they suddenly pop up after many chapters absence!

    For my major characters, I also get an artist to make a drawing of them, shoulders-up, and add those to the character profiles. Not so much because it’s necessary, but mostly because I like having a visual representation of my characters 🙂

  13. I’m like Kourtney–my character building is in my head. I can see, hear, and feel them. Sometimes I’ll sketch out their motivations to have a clearer sense of their inner story, but more often than not, if their behavior doesn’t happen organically, then I tend not to use it in the story. I’m afraid it would be contrived or forced, otherwise.

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