Now, I'll confess, I happen to be one of those writers whose characters are VERY real to them. Like, so real they talk to me and hijack my plots and run my life. (Yeah...my husband thinks I'm weird). So my main characters tend to come to me pretty complete, already talking to me and bossing me around. I still fill out the character profiles, but it's mostly just recording the stuff I already know, rather than building the characters and discovering them.
But for my side characters--who I like to be just as detailed and unique as my main characters--writing the character profile is invaluable to me.
So, here's my character profile template:
If you click on them you *should* be able to read them better.
And incidentally, if you'd like me to email you a .doc of it, just let me know, I'd be happy to.
So this is what I call, "the basics." It's a list of what are, in my opinion at least, the most useful questions from a bunch of different "how to write" books/websites.
And some of the questions start to get you digging a little deeper, like asking how the character feels about their appearance. What their biggest secret is. Are they likable? Will readers like them? Memories from their childhood. On and on. All good things to know.
By the time I'm done really thinking about all those questions and coming up with answers, I'll have a really good basic sense of the character. Even a sense of how they speak. Definitely worth taking the time to do. But for me...that's only the beginning.
Once I've filled out all "the basics" on my character profile template, I start adding new questions at the bottom--ones not on the document I'm showing you, because they're questions specific to the character individually, based on what I've learned about them from filling out the profile.
For example, if my character is a 12-year-old girl, I'm going to ask myself:
- Has she entered puberty?
- How does she feel about those changes to her body?
- Is she wearing a bra yet?
- Getting zits?
- Shaving her legs?
- Has she started wearing make-up?
- Has she started her period?
- Is she interested in boys yet?
- Has she ever kissed a boy?
- Does she want to, or is that still weird?
- Are her friends older or younger than her?
And the reason those questions aren't built into my template is because they only matter if my character is a "tween" girl. If my character is a teenage boy, the list changes. I might ask:
- Does he like to flirt with girls?
- Has he entered puberty yet?
- Is his voice deep, high pitched--or cracking?
- Does he play any school sports?
- How tall is he, compared to the other boys?
- Does he need to shave yet?
- Has he kissed a girl?
- Does he have acne, backne, or neckne?
- How do girls respond to him?
- How do other guys respond to him?
- Does he brag a lot?
Pretty sure you guys get the point, but just to pound the point home:
If the character were a middle-aged mom with kids, I would ask:
- Does she have any lines or wrinkles on her face?
- Is her hair turning gray yet?
- Is she comfortable in a bikini? Tankini? One piece?
- Does she have any regrets?
- How many men did she date before she married her husband?
- Is she still in touch with any of those men?
- Has her life turned out the way she'd hoped it would?
- Does she ever think about death or worry about her health?
- Does she like "young" clothes and music?
- Could she still fit into her wedding dress?
- How does she get along with her in-laws?
- Does she trust her husband?
Once again, most of those things probably won't show up in the book. But it's amazing how real it makes a character to think of them like this. I can't tell you how many times I had a character who was just sort of...generic and boring, and thanks to these exercises I'd realize: She was in love with character X when they were younger and has still never gotten over it!!! Or: He's this cocky, cute guy that all the girls want...but he's never kissed a girl because he's not allowed to date yet and he doesn't want anyone else to know!
It's amazing how knowing that about a character makes them jump of the page. It's like their dialogue pretty much writes itself after that.
So basically, all my character profiles start the same, and end completely differently. But the end goal is always the same: to see my characters as real, flawed people with secrets--big and small--they're keeping, issues--deep or shallow--that influence them and individual personalities and histories. Usually takes me several hours per character, but it is worth every second of that time--especially when it comes to dialogue. I revise my dialogue less than any other aspect of my draft, and it's because I know my characters so well, I *know* what they're going to say. But I'll talk more about dialogue in another post.
Okay, I think that covers the topic pretty well. What about you guys? How do you get to know your characters? If you ask yourself any questions I haven't mentioned, please--do share. I love hearing about other writer's methods. :)