Creating Character Profiles

Creating characters, or in some cases revealing characters who have created themselves, is part of the fun of writing fiction. When writing a novel, you need to know as much about each character as you can so you write with consistency about their behavior in any given circumstance.

Some characters are richly detailed and easy to understand, while others are persistent but more elusive. I have found that some only reveal themselves over time.

For me, profiles are the best tools for keeping track of each character and details about them. Many authors use this technique, and each will likely have his/her own method of building them. At least one author I know of goes to the extent of having astrological charts made for each character. My method is somewhat simpler.

My (Keep It Simple) Method

I start with a passport-type description: Name, age, place of origin, occupation, relationships within the story, and physical description, including unique details or quirks. Then I include a picture borrowed from Google of an actor or public figure that resembles what I think the character looks like. I do include a brief description of their tendencies based on their astrological profile. I resisted this at first, but it has ended up being quite useful —- the profiles have aligned well with the way I imagined the character and help keep me on track if I need reminding.

Then, as I work through the story, details are added, like their personal memories or family histories that I may not have known about in the beginning. Add to this a particular saying they may use and emotional wounds that drive them. Physical wounds are recorded here also.

Characters are not all human, though, are they? These same profiles work for castles, cities, animals, rivers, and vehicles — anything that is significant to the plot or likely to have more than one reference in the story.

It's Time to Play Casting Director

For the faces, it's fun to play casting director for a bit.

I found the right ones quite easily for my characters in The Earl in Black Armor because I already had images in my head.

I chose Colin O’Donoghue (Once Upon a Time) for Faolán Burke because of the mix of cunning and humor on his face. For Branna Dumalin, it was Kerry Condon (The Walking Dead) who exudes no-nonsense self-assurance and determination but with vulnerability at the same time. For Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford, it just had to be Colin Firth, who not only resembles the real 17th-century earl but also can be kind, romantic, and also rigid, fierce, and volatile. Plus, I have always had a bit of a crush on him. How can you not?

And then Connal, the Irish wolfhound. The competition was tough for this particular character, but in the end, the soulful eyes carried me away. And he looks like someone who enjoys cheese, a critical character facet. Anyway, the point is, when I see these faces, I am reminded of the traits I have assigned to the characters. I know them at a glance.

By the time I’d arrived at my third novel, I learned to save myself some time and angst: I copied and saved into these profiles any descriptions of the characters actually included in the manuscript. This allows me to refer back and maintain consistency from book to book. For me, the author, years will pass between the publication of books, so it is easy to forget some details. But readers may finish one book in a matter of days and then pick up the next one. For them, the details will remain fresh, and they’ll notice and be disturbed by any discrepancies.

The Techie Part

Some software programs—Scrivener, for example—provide character templates ready-made for this practice. Having spent a career working in Microsoft Word, it is easier to just create them myself from the functions I already know. They’re intended only for my eyes, so they don’t have to be pretty. My time needs to be focused on the story, not the creation of side documents.

I also use Pinterest extensively. I have a private folder to collect images of secondary characters, locations, wardrobe examples, maps, and more. Lord Holland and the Earl of Antrim, for instance, are only mentioned tangentially in my book, but perhaps one of my main characters may want to refer to their looks in some snarky way. In the 17th century, most of the nobles had their portraits painted, so I can find and copy them to my Pinterest folder to inform that description.

It's Fun -- But It's Not the Main Gig

The thing is, these character profiles can be great fun to build, but beware, they can also be a time-sink. I have to remind myself they are tools, not the main gig. My focus must always be on the story, first and foremost.

There are MANY articles and videos online about character profiling. I recommend just letting your own imagination do its thing, but here are a few websites you might enjoy:

Questionnaires for writing character profiles

Character Charting (fill in the blanks!)

Or pick and choose traits from a random profile generator: 



Or you can always do the WHO and Ten Absolute Truths exercises provided by our lovely and talented director of education.