A captivating protagonist is essentially the most important part of your novel.
Well, look at it this way – if your protagonist feels two-dimensional and unrealistic, there is a high chance your readers won’t connect to them on an emotional level.
And if your readers don’t care about your character enough to root for them, why should they be invested in the plot, right?
The good news is that crafting interesting characters who come alive on the page isn’t some secret industry skill. In fact, creating a character profile is quite a common writing strategy – one that we’re going to unpack today.
What Is a Character Profile?
A character profile is a sheet of paper or a document that holds all relevant information about your character, from their physical appearance to their motivations and background.
Who is this person in a nutshell? And what role do they play in the overall narrative?
Those are but two of the important questions character profiles encourage you to answer.
Before you begin to write your first draft, it’s a good idea to create character profiles of all your prominent characters, including the protagonist, the sidekick, and the antagonist.
Why Is a Character Profile Such a Useful Writing Tool?
When I was younger, I didn’t think I needed character profiles or sketches.
In all frankness, writing down every character’s bibliography seemed pointless because, well, the information was already stored in my head, so why should I bother?
But over time, my characters’ personalities slowly got out of hand – their behavior changed radically in order to fit the plot, they made illogical decisions, and if they hadn’t had different names, you could have easily swapped one for the other.
Then I decided to finally try to craft a character profile. And everything changed.
A character profile is an incredibly useful tool for multiple reasons:
It serves as a point of reference during the drafting stage. If you’re unsure of how your character would react in a certain situation, you can check the sheet and make sure their behavior is in line with who they are as a person.
It allows you to keep track of the character’s wants and needs, two important parts of character development (we’ll get into that later in the article).
It encourages you to think more critically about your character’s personality and to use different tools in order to get to know your character better (and therefore make them more complex).
It helps you jot down background information about the character that may only come to light later in the novel or in the following books of the series, which gives you some great plot twist opportunities.
What’s more, character profiles usually make for more complex and nuanced characters, and if there’s one thing every author ought to strive for, it’s a realistic and multifaceted character.
In fact, research shows that people can empathize with a fictional character in the same way they would with a real person. This is because the human brain struggles to distinguish between what is real and what is imagined on an experiential level.
Have you ever wondered why we all feel like Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger are not only Harry’s best friends but also ours? This is the reason.
The more realistic your characters are, the higher the chances that your readers will completely immerse themselves in your story and develop an emotional connection to your fictional cast.
(Oh, and one more thing – creating a character profile is a way for you to work on your novel even when you don’t feel like drafting.)
Building Your Character Profile: 4 Vital Elements
The first thing you should know is that the shape of your fictional character profile is entirely up to you.
Some people focus on physical appearance and mannerisms a lot while others only cover the basics, preferring to dig deep into their characters’ backgrounds.
Some writers like to create a basic character sketch and get writing as soon as possible while others may spend hours puzzling over their characters’ personalities and character development.
In this section, we’ll cover everything and anything you might want to include in your character profile.
You probably already have an idea of what your character looks like, right?
Well, write it down. And remember that physical description can also include your character’s mannerisms, typical facial expressions, and accent or tone of voice.
If you are more of a visual writer, I recommend you find an image that represents your character. There are plenty of AI-generated images on websites like Pinterest.
How did your character get to where they are now? What are some important milestones from their past that may influence how they act in the story? Do they keep any secrets?
Your readers may never get to know the full story about your characters, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
Of course, you don’t need to write a whole bibliography. There are some things about your fictional darlings that you may only realize during the drafting process, and that’s okay.
Just make sure you are familiar with the three most important events from your character’s past.
RELATED READ: Protagonist vs Antagonist: Everything You Need to Know
This is where things get really fun.
Usually, you can recognize great character work when you’re reading a scene with multiple different people in it and can tell who says what purely based on their lines. Those characters have such fleshed-out personalities that you can easily tell them apart.
Personally, I like to get to know my characters by:
- Writing down their strengths and weaknesses
- Completing an MBTI test on their behalf to see what kind of personality they have
- Writing a random scene I may never use in order to test their behavior and chemistry with other characters
- Figuring out what they want and what they need
Oh, and speaking of wants and needs…
Every character ought to evolve throughout the novel, and a very effective way to craft a compelling character development arc is to establish your character’s motivations, fears, and hidden weaknesses.
Moreover, try to establish what your character wants and what they need. While the first spurs them into action at the beginning of the story, the latter is something they don’t realize they truly need until later on.
Here’s an example:
A fictional man named Fredrick goes on a quest to save the world. He wants fame and glory. He’s also very independent – too independent for his own good, in fact.
What he doesn’t realize is that fame won’t bring him happiness and that independence can easily turn into loneliness. As he overcomes different obstacles throughout the story, he finally comes to embrace the fact that it is the friendships he’s made along the way that are the real prize.
I know, I know. Quite soppy, isn’t it?
But the truth is that most needs are. All characters’ needs are usually about the bigger messages hiding between the lines, such as the power of hope or the importance of love.
(Of course, your message can also be very gritty and pessimistic if that’s what your artistic expression is about. It’s up to you.)
So, when crafting your character development overview, try to include:
- Each character’s narrative role (protagonist, antagonist, sidekick, love interest, mentor…)
- Their involvement and importance in the story
- Their motivations (wants and needs)
- An overall plan of their development throughout the plot
Your Character Profile: 3 Tips
Let’s move on to some practical tips that’ll help you get the most out of your character profiles:
Check out different tools that make crafting character profiles easy as well as fun. Personally, I love using Milanote (they even have a character profile template). Then there’s also Notion, Scrivener, and Dabble. Of course, you can also use a sheet of paper, a corkboard, or a simple Word Document.
Thinking up a character is one thing but making them come alive on the page is another. Before you settle on your character’s personality, try writing a random scene where they interact with other castmates. This will help you test your character’s “vibe” and their chemistry with others.
Remember that your character profile serves you, not the other way around. If your character gains new contours and colors during the writing process, you can tweak your character profile. Too much rigidity can stifle creativity.
A character profile is an incredibly useful writing tool that helps you fully flesh out your characters.
However, don’t forget that everyone’s writing process is different and that the shape and length of your character profile are ultimately up to you.