‘So, what is character profiling?’ I hear some of you cry. Well, in essence, character profiling is all about profiling your characters. Yeah, I know, that’s a given, right? But what does character profiling have to do with writing a book?
Let me explain …
For me, character profiling is all about getting to know your characters. Not only in understanding what they look like or their pet hates but getting to know them on a level where you can understand their motivations, their behaviours, and their layers. Remember Shrek? Well, a stranger or ogre on the street is just a stranger—or an ogre—until you get to know who they are, their likes and dislikes, their history, their fears, their ambitions and so on. Once you learn more about them, you can understand them on a deeper level—even if you don’t agree with them—and that’s a great bond to have with someone who you’re going to be spending the next few thousand words with.
Now, before anyone says, ‘Katie, you know characters aren’t real, right?’ may I add here that I know that. Sometimes. Okay, most days, I know that. But I would like to stress that your characters need to become real in the sense that they’re believable. They need to have depth. A purpose; like we all do, the good and the bad, because without that, what do you have? A two-dimensional character who nobody gives a rat’s ass about, that’s what.
So what does character profiling do?
Fundamentally, character profiling encourages you to ask questions of your characters so you can establish such things as their name, their appearance, and their background. The questions you can ask are many, and you don’t necessarily have to answer them all, but this is where the fun kicks in as you allow your imagination to run wild. Here are a few examples of what to ask of your creativity when profiling your characters:
- Date of Birth
- Eye colour
- Hair colour
- Turning points in their life
… and so on … the list is limitless, but the more, the better!
In my personal opinion, I think every main character needs one. I always do an in-depth character profile for my MCs and a less intense one for the supporting characters. I find that it adds value without me even realizing it until later on in the process.
There are lots of character templates online for people to print off and use. Or, if you’re savvy on the software, create your own—even a pen and paper will do. To practice, you could write a profile for yourself as a test run to see if you’re asking the right questions to establish a decent profile.
Lara Willard, editor and story consultant, has a great array of sheets that she’s designed and displayed on her blog. Check out her templates here. And Elvendeathmarch on Deviant Art has made a great one. Click here to check it out. Or, here is a template I’ve used in the past to get you started: Character Profile Template
You’ll note on my template and others on the web, that there is a section for an image. I find it’s because a lot of people wish to have a visual of their character to work with. I like to scour the internet to look for people who resemble my characters. It’s not a good thing to do if you’re precious about people judging your search history. But after explaining to my husband why I’m searching for topless men with blond shoulder length hair and blue eyes for three hours, I’m willing to make the sacrifice! Studying and using these images for my own personal and confidential use gives me something to work with. And, in my mind, it makes the character come alive. But you don’t have to use images off the internet. You could draw your own or take cuttings from magazines, or you don’t even have to use an image at all. It’s up to you. That’s the great thing about character profiling. The rules are your own!
My character profiles are seen by my eyes only. But there are still copyright laws in place regarding use of any images taken from the web. That’s why it’s best to search for particular images via their usage rights. Here is a great video that shows you how to search for the right image for your purpose should this be applicable: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=09BzqxXIDDk
So, after doing a character profile, how should you use it?
Once you’ve written out the profiles, that’s a lot of the hard work done. By doing this part of the process, you will have gotten to know each of your characters on a whole other level. It will show in your writing as you explore the depths of what you’ve discovered; the definition of their dimensions there for all to see as they face the challenges you’ve written for them. Profiling will also help you to side-step the stereotype, giving both your heroes and your antagonists a realistic voice.
I keep my character profiles on file with a section at the bottom that states: KEY PLOT POINTS. I add to this section each time something vital happens to the character, or if there is a reference point I need to check on for future books—this addition works great particularly for books that are in a series. It becomes a catalog of the character’s traits, their history, and the journey, to aid with consistency.
So, that’s about it for me on character profiling. It may, in some way, seem straightforward. It may even sound like an onerous task. But trust me, it will be a worthy one. And one you should make time for. I’m sure your characters will come to love you for it!
Please feel free to share in the comments below the ways you profile your characters. It will be great to hear from you!