One of the most essential tasks is character development when a writer gets an idea for a story and begins the writing process. To have a successful book that readers will connect with, you have to invent fictional characters for your book that readers feel could exist in real life outside of the book. Creating a character profile helps you develop your characters alongside what is commonly known in the writing world as character bibles.
This article will help you build a character profile so that your fictional character’s life will seem as real as your own. Your main characters have to matter to your audience. If you have flat characters, you’ll have a dull book, and it won’t matter what your character’s role is. The reader will not care.
What is a Character Profile?
A character profile is all of the information you could need to build a well-rounded, realistic character for your book. This is usually completed in what is known as a character profile worksheet or template. These documents can be downloaded for free online, found in physical books that you can purchase about writing and character development, or made up by the writer directly.
In a character profile, you dissect your main characters by writing down or filling out the parts of the template or worksheet. Information you will need to decide for your character includes character details about their appearance, demeanor, attitude, background, personality, connections, and more.
The character profile worksheet is often divided into sections and will ask for a lot of information to help build your character. During the writing process, you can and should refer back to this template often. Things that need to be amended to fit the plot can be changed, or if the plot needs to change to fit the character, this is the tool to use.
As you fill out the character profile worksheet, ask yourself if the character seems like they could be a real person. The only time it’s okay to have a completely unrealistic character is when you are writing about a character who is supposed to be unrealistic. For example, if you have a sentient robot character, they will not possess the exact characteristics of a normal human. They may be without emotion or empathy, have no familial background, etc.
Another example is the genre of science fiction. If your character is an alien or other non-human species, they won’t seem realistic, but that is done purposefully. A character profile template will still be helpful to nail down the other things about the character that need to be noted, such as the character’s appearance, how the character speaks, etc.
Character Profile Template
Once you have selected the character profile template or worksheet that you want to use or have used others to design your own, it’s time to start thinking about your characters, one by one, to develop a character profile.
If you have never done character profiles before, the template itself may seem a bit overkill. They ask you about everything from physical appearance to what the person wanted to be as a grown-up back when they were a child. Is that going to be included in the writing? Maybe not, but the better you, the writer, know your characters, the better chance you have of writing a successful story.
You need to know your characters like the back of your hand. They should be your best friends, your family, and your alter egos. That’s how well you should know every aspect of the people you insert into your story.
If you aren’t sure where to start, a great tip is to fill the template out about yourself to begin. Be honest, don’t censor yourself, and answer all of the questions on the character profile honestly about yourself. When you see all of the components laid out in front of you in black and white, you start to see how all of the things that are you, in the character profile, came together to put you in the actual story you live every single day. This exercise can help you invent characters that come to life for the audience within the pages of your book.
Parts of a Detailed Character Profile
There are many parts to a profile for the characters in your story. This article will now go over some of these parts and provide examples. Remember that being as detailed as possible in your template will help you to keep things consistent, believable, and reliable.
A Character’s Outward Appearance
The physical appearance of your characters, especially your main character, needs to be described in enough detail so that readers can picture the character in their minds. You can’t just get by with writing that the main character is tall and has dark hair. You need to create a mental image with your character’s physical description. Be specific in your description, but don’t bore the reader. The following physical characteristics are things to be included in your character profile in regards to appearance.
Does the character have scars, tattoos, piercings, or birthmarks? Your character profiles should mention any and all of these distinguishing features. In suspense novels or mysteries, it can be vital that you include any distinguishing marks that can set a character apart, especially when there’s an element of suspense tied to your plot. A casually mentioned tattoo, scar, or birthmark can come back later in the story and blow the entire case wide open.
It’s important to give readers a full picture of a person, and the head of a person is what most people pay attention to first. When you describe hairstyle, make sure that you’re descriptive enough to get the picture of the hair across to the reader, but you don’t need to bore them. Stated as simply as a receding hairline, pixie cut, long and wavy, messy and unkempt, slicked back, greasy and dirty.
It is important, however, that you’re reasonably specific when it comes to hair color. Readers want a complete picture of a character’s appearance, and hair color is a major part of developing that mental image. Just mentioning that the character has brown, blonde, black, or red hair isn’t enough because so many shades play into it. Be sure to use descriptive terms such as sandy blonde, dirty blonde, fiery red, dark auburn, jet black, raven black, chestnut brown, or chocolate brown.
Height and Build
As a writer, you want your characters to behave like real people, so things like height, build, and athletic ability are also important when you create a storyline and drop a character into it. Be sure to describe not just whether the character is tall, short, skinny, or fat. Use descriptive language to describe the character. Many writers may feel bashful to use descriptive words when describing body type, but you should feel free to develop a character using the language and the words that best describe the image you are trying to convey.
Lean into terms like lean, slim, athletic, chubby, overweight, fat, emaciated, thin, skinny, voluptuous, busty, muscled, defined, obese. Give yourself the freedom to accurately depict specific details about the build of a character. Great characters are believable, and there is no actual world in which everyone is beautiful and fits into the mold of average height and build.
Describe height as well as you can without boring anyone. If your character is exceptionally tall, say so. Tell the audience that he towers over most of his peers, standing at 6’6″. Tell the audience directly that at 6’1″, your leading lady is a commanding presence in the courtroom or dating scene. These things set your story up and set your character apart from the rest.
While you don’t have to get as exact as the birth date of your character, you do need to approximate their age. If you generalize that your character is a cruise ship director or a mortician, you tell us their profession, not their age. They could be 29 or 74. Simply stating that someone is elderly only works for supporting characters. Merely stating that the main character is “young” also won’t work. You need to be more specific.
Suppose you’re telling a love story about a college student who falls in love with his professor and begins a sexual relationship that begins a scandal, age matters. If your story centers around a 19-year-old college student and a 65-year-old professor, it’s much different than having a 22-year-old student sleeping with a 30-year-old professor. The mood and theme of the story are much different, depending on age.
Eye color and eyewear are also important factors when it comes to character traits. People notice eyes, especially if you’re going to make your characters believable and have eye contact throughout the story. Mentioning eye color and whether your character wears glasses or contact lenses can be critical to the story. Your character can seductively remove her glasses, but you have to mention that she wears glasses first.
Eye color is significant to mention in romance novels. Blue, brown, hazel, and green are boring. Use descriptive language like icy blue, dark brown, sparkling hazel, and emerald green.
Your main characters can argue over a witness who saw a murder in the field behind his house, but the argument is much more compelling and exciting if the witness wears contacts and didn’t have them in when they witnessed the crime.
Disabilities or Chronic Illnesses
Describing a character’s outward appearance also means explaining any disabilities or illnesses that the character might have. If your character has debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, it will stand to reason that he couldn’t keep up with the killer during a chase because he couldn’t get a gate latch opened quickly.
If your character is epileptic, diabetic, has cancer, or is in a wheelchair, these things are also important to mention. We must include these unfortunate but realistic issues in novels because the reality is that readers can relate to them, and most people don’t believe in a story in which everyone is as healthy as a horse.
A Character’s Background
A character’s background is key to character development. When you create a character profile, you need to ensure that you include plenty of background information, even if the reader isn’t told most of it. You have to know your character to decipher how the character would react to other characters, confrontation, trauma, fear, joy, love, etc.
Manipulating and giving the character an exciting background means making a character deal with different situations and scenarios in interesting ways without making the novel unbelievable.
No matter what genre you are writing, relationships between characters and some objects are important. How you describe relationship standards, trends, and tendencies also matters.
A character’s life has to play out in the pages of your novel, and relationships are a part of that. When you describe relationships, keep in mind that there are many different types, and you shouldn’t only mention romantic relationships. When you talk about enemies, you are still describing a relationship.
What is the marital status of your character? Are they single, dating, engaged, married, or widowed? How you describe the marital status of a character can give the reader a deeper look into their personality and how they might interact with other characters.
Are there family members that will be in the story? Does your character have family members they are close to or estranged from that will come into play? If your character comes from a large and wealthy family, the extended family may even be relevant to mention.
There is no such thing as perfect happiness, so make sure you write about how a character interacts with significant others if there is one clue the reader in on the character’s personality. If creating a real-life picture is your goal, the style in which a person conducts relationships in your novel can be significant.
Maybe your character’s greatest regret was not marrying his high school sweetheart, and he’s been unhappy ever since. How you describe the relationship in terms of your characters will help the audience make judgments about them.
Personality traits are one of the most important things to note when you create a character profile. What sort of person do you want your character to be?
You can make your character generous by putting them in situations where they show altruism, charity, kindness, and selflessness.
You can make your character happy, even to the point of blissful ignorance. This sort of character makes a great victim or an excellent trait for a child or elderly person. It’s an endearing quality.
You can make your character judgmental, leading to a change of heart later in the story and becoming an uplifting tale of lessons learned and hardships overcome.
Dive deeper to the lowest depth of a character’s personality, and decide who you want them to be. Give them whatever life you want them to have, and make them react to that life or style of living. A character’s actions and attitude must correspond with the personality you have given them.
Create a believable character by giving them personality flaws, as well. No one is perfectly good or absolutely horrible. You can have someone who is the epitome of evil but has a soft spot for animals. You can have someone with the morals of a saint and still make them impatient. Character profiles should never be one-dimensional.
A Character’s Story Goal
When you make character profiles, you need to give each character a goal. These people you have invented need to have something that motivates them that they are working towards or trying to get away from, just like real people. The following are some examples of possible goals you can give a character.
- To fall in love
- To get wealthy
- To avenge the death of a loved one
- To get justice
- To stand up for themselves or someone else
- To hurt someone
- To kill someone
- To gain power
- To find safety
- To solve a mystery or crime
Other Things to Include in a Character Profile
Other things you should consider when you create a character profile are:
- A character’s psyche: How do they think, and what led them to think that way?
- Spiritual characteristics: Is the person religious or spiritual, or have they lost faith? Are the character’s spiritual beliefs essential to the plot?
- The character’s demeanor: Is the character generally polite, rude, demeaning? Why?
- Does the character have noticeable speech patterns like a lisp or a stutter? How does this affect communication or the plot?
All of these and more factors are important to consider when you create a character profile. You want to know as much as you possibly can about the people you invent for your short story or novel as the author.
Do You Have a Good Character Profile?
Once you have completed your profile or template, you should look over it several times and ask yourself if the person you decided to create is believable. Could this person exist in real life? Do real people behave, look, and feel like this? Stay away from stereotypes if you can. Remember that young people read books and are interested in hobbies like model trains and knitting, too. Older generations have many people who use social media platforms. Don’t stick to the stereotypical computer whiz being a 20 year old with wild hair dye and tattoos, and don’t stick with a grey-haired old lady for a quilter.
A good character profile helps provide a mental image of a character and a way to move the story along the way you want to. You can make a character wear glasses just so that you can fog them up when the murder takes place, and they miss it. You can play with age, location, and social status to take a suspect from the back alleys of crime-laden cities to the sprawling grounds of a mansion.
Whatever you decide to do with a character, they need to be well planned, believable, and entertaining. You can make them serious, funny, intense, or laid back. All of this is up to you as the writer. There is a lot of freedom involved in the creation of a character, but, as the saying goes, with great freedom comes great responsibility.