Author’s Corner: The Importance of a Character Profile

One of the most important elements in a story is characterization: making the characters seem vivid, real, alive. One technique many writers (myself included) use with success is to create a character profile for the main characters in the novel.

The purpose of a character profile is twofold: to assist the writer in creating a character that is as lifelike as possible and to help with continuity issues in the story.

Many bestselling authors have stated that they came up with the basics of a character’s personality and then they found that the character just “came alive” for them and ended up driving the story all on his own. These are writers with years of experience developing characters and it comes more naturally to them. However, for the beginning writer, sometimes a more concrete approach is helpful.

Herron sits at a table with his books displayed
Author R.L. Herron

That is where the character profile comes in – it is simply a tool for organizing your thoughts about a certain character and keeping track of a particular character’s idiosyncrasies and relationships. It can help flesh out a cardboard character and even make you think about facets of personality you might not have considered before.

Character profiles are especially helpful for novels that involve several main characters and for stories, which use multiple points of view.

Depending on the genre in which you write, you can create additional sections on the character profile worksheet. For example, fantasy writers can use the character profiles to keep track of factors such as magical abilities, family lineage, spells the character is under, and limitations on the character’s power to ensure continuity in the action.

For literary and mainstream novels, profiles are especially useful for keeping in mind motivations of the character … hurts and disappointments in the past which may not be alluded to directly in the dialogue, but which nevertheless color everything the character thinks and feels. For example, someone who was abused as a child will most likely react differently in certain situations than someone who had a happy, loving childhood.

A character profile is also of great help to ensure continuity in the character’s actions.

Obviously, a character can develop over the course of the novel. If you change an attribute of your character, be sure to update your profile worksheet right away. The worksheet provides a place for you to note that fact so that when you read over your final draft you can see if you achieved your particular development goal for that character.
By now, I hope you see that a character profile is really just a guide where you can list facts and details to help you get to know your characters, especially if you are stuck on one who doesn’t quite seem real. Maybe he needs a new characteristic … a hidden trauma, a fabulous skill or a deadly secret … something that will make the character come alive for you … and, more importantly, for your readers. How detailed you want your character worksheets to be just depends on what works best for you.

So, next time you’re stuck on characterization, pull out the character profile worksheet and get to know someone new.

About R.L. Herron

R.L. Herron, the author of multiple works of fiction, including several Readers' Favorite medal winners, lives and writes in Michigan with his lovely wife, a finally-paid mortgage, and one extremely large cat. His books are all available on Amazon and online with Barnes & Noble. Visit Author R.L. Herron's Website, Broken Glass.

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