Well-written, interesting characters are the backbone of your story. To readers, they are the life of the story and are often the reason for recommending your book to a friend.
Naturally, you want to offer the reader a multi-dimensional main character. Boring, two-dimensional characters quickly deter readers and damage your reputation as an author.
Well-thought-out and juicy main characters draw readers and help you make a great impression on your readers. If you can establish a reputation as a character-driven author, you will likely encourage readers to read more of your work.
So, how do you share great characters with your readers? The best approach is to create a character profile. Just as authors create a plot outline for their story, so do they develop a character outline.
Part of such an outline are the profiles of fictional characters. A detailed outline shows more than the character’s age, you also need to present the character’s psyche – their background, lifestyle, psychology, and personality traits.
How to write character profiles
Writing character profiles may seem daunting if you’ve never written one before. However, it doesn’t need to be.
The more you write character profiles, the easier it will become.
To get you started, we’ve included a basic character profile template later in the article. Think of the template as a character development aid – you don’t need to have all the questions answered already; they exist for you to take time and think about the most appropriate answer for your major character.
Before we get to the template, let’s better understand a solid character profile and its purpose.
What is a character profile?
A character profile is a biography of a character’s life, including their name, age, appearance, and lifestyle. It also covers the character’s personality traits and psychological background. The profile embeds the character with motivations, perspectives, personality, and function in the story.
As an author, you want to use the character’s essence to emphasize the story’s message – you’re telling the world that this person exists and has feelings and influence on the world around them—someone from this background, these circumstances, this life.
Many respected authors receive their reputation through their ability to develop and portray characters.
Think Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. These authors are known for writing strong characters that stick with readers long after they’ve read the story. Such is the goal of dedicated character-building.
A character profile helps you overcome writer’s block by allowing you to figure out what they would most likely do in a situation—character combinations and dynamics branch situations into different potential outcomes.
Character profile questions
There are many ways to come up with interesting characters and profile questions can be a good start.
The following character questionnaire is a great help in creating a character bio template based on several areas of your character’s life, from surface-level details such as name, age, place of birth, and physical characteristics, to more personal character traits such as their communication style and relationship health, to deeper elements of self such as their psychology and core beliefs.
1. Superficial profile
It’s important to outline your character’s outward appearance. Your physical descriptions paint a picture of the character in the reader’s mind, helping them visualize the story’s events.
Let’s consider the first part of the character creation process touches on the surface level, including background information, distinguishing features, physical stature, traits, posture, and even speech patterns. These details will help the reader choose your character out of a crowd.
Aside from the character’s name, these details include other factors:
- Age or birth date
- Place of residence
- Hair Color
- Eye color
- Hair style
- Wear glasses
- Wear accessories
- Hygiene (Clean/unkempt?)
- How does your character speak? Do they speak fast or slow?
- Do they speak with confidence, or are they shy?
- Do they speak in their native tongue or the language they speak as their second language?
- Do they have a strong accent?
- Do they have any speech impediments, such as a stammer or mispronunciation of a letter?
- How do they use body language? Do they stand tall and confident when they speak or make themselves small? Do they use gestures, or are they stiff?
- How do they speak when feeling a given emotion, such as anger or happiness?
- Are they good at making and holding eye contact, or do they often look away?
- Do they curse much?
- Are they open with their feelings or closed?
- How do others usually perceive them when they’re neutral?
Some aspects of our relationships with the world around us play an essential role when describing and animating a character. Consider the character’s background and cover questions such as:
- Where are they from? What is the name of their hometown or home country?
- Did they go to school? What kind of education did they get?
- Were they involved in clubs in school?
- What were their hopes and dreams as a child?
- Who did they look up to when they were a child?
- What was their household like? Did they live in the same place their whole childhood, or did their parents/guardians move around a lot?
- Have they won any awards?
Describe their relationship dynamics. Get to know their family members, friends, and so on.
- Are one or both of their parents alive? How old are they, and what do they do?
- Do they have any siblings?
- How well do they get along with each family member?
- Are they married or in a relationship? How is that relationship?
- Do they have any children?
- Do they have many close friends? Describe their friends.
- Do they have any enemies?
- Do they get along well with strangers?
- Are they extroverted or introverted?
- How do they fare in groups? Are they group leaders or more a follower?
- Do people expect them to behave in a certain way?
- Who do they turn to in times of stress or when they need advice?
- Describe their ideal partner.
- Have they had romantic relationships in the past? Have those relationships been positive or negative experiences?
4. Character psychology
Let’s get to the juicy details about your character – their psychology and character personality traits. You’ve already covered basic details, physical appearance, history, and relationships, so now it’s time to add another dimension and make them more tangible and realistic.
The questions in this section will help you explore your aspects of psychology, which will inform you about how your character thinks, feels about their life, and reacts to and copes with stress.
Your character’s psychological state and habits help you flesh out a more three-dimensional character. It also enables you to take direction regarding the character’s motivations.
Our earliest relationship – the one we have as children with our parents or primary caregivers – is highly formative. The quality of this relationship highly influences how we see the world, relationships, and how we cope with stress and challenges in adulthood.
As such, it’s wise to flesh out your character’s early childhood experiences. With an understanding of your character’s background and some basic insight into early childhood psychology, you can figure out how they approach life as adults.
- What was their family circumstance?
- How was their temperament as a child?
- Did their parents meet their needs? Did they offer consistent love and affection? Or were they neglectful?
- What’s their attachment style? Do they experience secure attachment in adult relationships or insecure attachment?
- Do they have self-awareness around the effect of their childhood experiences on their adult life?
- Who offered them the most emotional support as a child?
- How did their parents react to their complex emotions, such as anger, tantrums, sadness, or hyperactivity?
Personal experiences and preferences
- What’s their favorite color? Sound? Food?
- Where is their safe place?
- Do they have any secrets? Are they keeping secrets from others? How do they feel about keeping secrets? How do they feel when secrets are kept from them?
- What’s their most significant achievement?
- What are their strengths?
- What are their weaknesses?
- What makes them happy?
- What makes them sad?
- What makes them angry?
- What do they fear? What experiences created those fears?
- How do they deal with stress?
- How do they deal with uncertainty?
- How do they deal with control or lack thereof?
- If they could only save three personal possessions, what would they be?
- Do they have strong morals?
- Do they live by a belief system?
- What are their pet peeves?
- How do they react to compliments?
- How do they react to criticism?
- What does your character want in life? Do they have a main goal? How do they organize their life around that goal?
- What obstacles stand in the way of them reaching their goals? And how do they deal with those obstacles?
It’s important to know where your character is going. Even if they never reach their intended destination, giving them the direction will help you move the story along.
Examples of character descriptions
Read each character description below and consider what makes each one so effective.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K Rowling
A giant of a man was standing in the doorway. His face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.
J.K Rowling uses words like shaggy mane and wild, tangled to paint a clear picture of Hagrid. By likening his eyes to black beetles, the reader can clearly visualize how the light hits the eyes of the giant of a man in the doorway.
Notice Rowling uses descriptive language when describing her character’s physical appearance.
She doesn’t just say that he’s tall and hairy. Tall and hairy may fit in the profile but understand that it’s essential to get creative when adding these details to the story.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
Her skin was a rich black that would have peeled like a plum if snagged, but then no one would have thought of getting close enough to Mrs. Flowers to ruffle her dress, let alone snag her skin. She didn’t encourage familiarity. She wore gloves too.
Maya Angelou doesn’t only describe her character’s skin (physical appearance). In the same sentence, she offers the reader insight into how others perceive Mrs. Flowers and her attitude toward others.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
He was most fifty, and he looked it. His hair was long and tangled and greasy, and hung down, and you could see his eyes shining through like he was behind vines. It was all black, no gray; so was his long, mixed-up whiskers.
There warn’t no color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not like another man’s white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body’s flesh crawl – a tree-toad white, a fish-belly white.
As for his clothes – just rags, that was all. He had one ankle resting on t’other knee; the boot on that foot was busted, and two of his toes stuck through, and he worked them now and then. His hat was laying on the floor – an old black slouch with the top caved in, like a lid.
Notice how Twain describes the character’s appearance.
It’s not just white skin; it’s tree-toad white, fish belly-white. These small descriptive details go a long way in helping the reader visualize just what the character before us looks like.
Throughout this physical description, we also learn about the narrator’s speech patterns and communication style, further immersing us in the world and social context of the story.
Use the questions above as a character profile worksheet. keep in mind that you don’t have to answer all the questions, but doing so will better prepare you to overcome unexpected challenges or plot holes throughout the writing process.
If you feel like adding character details and questions as you see fit, do so. This is your character, so it’s up to you to get as deep and creative as you wish.