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  • Writer's pictureKristin Noland

How to Know Your Characters



You can get to know your characters by asking questions and creating character profiles!


What is a Character Profile?


A character profile is a detailed record of your character from their physical appearance to their backstory.


The goal with character profiles is to create realistic, relatable, likeable, and hatable characters, who readers can bond with and root for … or against. 😊


Your protagonist and antagonist will have the most detailed profiles, as you will go deep into their psyches!


Sounds fun, right?


It is.


If you are an introvert, you may love this, as you get to make new friends without leaving your home! 😃


Let's get into how we do this.


How to create a character profile.


Start with a questionnaire.


A list of simple questions can be used for all your characters. And you can add deeper questions for your major characters.


Physical characteristics will get you started.


For the surface stuff, start with the basics.


Physical Characteristics


Physical characteristics will influence their behavior and how they interact with their environment or other characters.


Examples


Name, height, weight, hair color, eye color.


Body type, fitness level, coordination, weaknesses, deformities, enhancements.


A character who is unfit may look at a steep hill and think it’s a mountain they will be exhausted after they climb. While a fit person may look at the same hill and see it as an exciting challenge.


A 6’5” character may slouch to feel like everyone else, yet a 4’5” may stand straight to make themselves look taller.


Both height and weight, and even body perception, can affect how they view themselves and others.


Daily Routine


Set up their everyday routine and backstory by asking basic questions. Their routine is where they start in the story, and their backstory will shape their actions or lack of action.


These questions can be used for all major and side characters.


Examples


Job — What is it and do they enjoy it? Why?

School — What level? Do they fit in or not? Why?

Are they poor, rich, middle class?

What is their favorite store, restaurant, coffee shop?

Where do they go for solace?

What activities do they enjoy?

Who are their friends and relatives? Enemies?


Friends, relatives, and enemies can kick off more exciting character profiles!


It’s fine to enter the rabbit hole. Creating profiles is fun. Just make sure you don’t get caught up in too many details for side and minor characters, as this may delay actually writing the story.


Go deeper.


Personality Traits


Personality traits reveal who they are.


Major characters should have more than minor characters. Traits influence how they interact with other characters.


Examples


Introvert or an extrovert?

Crack under pressure or stay calm?

Anxious, depressed, funny, lover or fighter, suspicious, inquisitive, cautious?

People-pleaser, excessive guilt and/or shame, distrust?


Personality traits can also lead to motivations and later you will investigate the whys behind these traits.


Habits


They should also have habits. Include physical ones, like cracking their knuckles, twisting their hair, biting their nails. And tells, like biting their lip, a twitching eye, rubbing the back of their neck.


These will help with showing they are stressed, scared, frustrated, happy, surprised, confused rather than telling!


You can use habits to decrease the use of dialogue tags by creating action beats using their habits.


Examples


What do they do when they are nervous?

What do they do when they are scared?

What do they do when they are excited?

What do they do when they are happy?


Fears


Fears show your character isn’t perfect and they add to realism. Nobody is confident about everything. And your characters shouldn’t be either. Fears are an important to rounding out any character.


Examples


For introverts, this could be crowds or even people. For extroverts, being alone.


Fear of failure, lateness, financial insecurity, offending or disappointing others.

Fear of animals. Dogs, cats, rabbits, rats, snakes, spiders. Yikes!


Once these are answered, it’s time to really dig in.


Dig deep.


By this point, you will be getting to know your characters quite well and bonding with them, but you will need to know they whys behind their issues.


Ask why they have these goals, traits, habits, and fears.


Examples


Why do they want to achieve? Were they pushed by a parent? A coach? Financial struggles?


Why do they fear something? Were they bitten by a dog when they were young? Simply get creeped out by slithery things?


Why do they jump into the fight? Are they an angry person? Why? Were they constantly picked on and think their reaction must be physical?


Why do they feel guilty all the time? Were they mentally abused when they were young? Did they see one parent apologizing to the other a lot?


Why are they a people pleaser? Did they fear disappointing a parent or guardian? Were they punished for failure or what someone saw as failure?


Deeper still.


Inner Wounds


These are their stumbling blocks, which will hold them back for most of the story and from getting what they need. The conflicts you create for them should push them to succumb to these wounds and eventually rise above them.


They can be anything from abandonment to addiction. Victim of a crime to disillusionment.


Make these debilitating. They are what will hold the characters back for most of the book. The more intense, the harder it will be to heal this wound, which is what they need!


Beliefs and morals


Their beliefs could stem from their governmental structure, their society, or their religion.


Whether flawed or not, they should have beliefs. These will contribute to their morals, affect their actions, and give you ideas for adding conflict in your story.


Examples


Do they think their government is too controlling or not controlling enough? Why? Did they experience their government doing something they consider wrong?


Do they believe in capital punishment? Why? Do they believe all life is precious, or did someone they love die because of this law?


Do they believe women are inferior to men, men inferior to women, or equals? Why? Is this something only their family believes, or does their society believe this?


Do they believe in a god, gods, nature? Why? Is it the way they were raised, or did they find their own way to their religion due to a rejection of another?



There are a lot more questions you can ask and should. Your questionnaire is yours and may depend on your genre.


A crime novel where the murderer’s perspective is revealed to the reader will need to go deeper into the character’s psyche and childhood issues than, say, a romantic comedy.


The deeper you go, the more realistic your characters will be, and the stronger readers will bond with them.


There will be a lot of information you build, especially backstory. Sorry, some won’t be used in the novel, but you will have in-depth knowledge about your characters, which is the goal of character profiles!


Stories rely heavily on characters and their arcs, so make sure you have well-rounded, believable, and likeable or hatable characters.


Be prepared to dig deep and work hard.


By the end, you will be able to answer almost any question thrown at you about them.


Would they sky dive? Would they shave her head under peer pressure? What would cause them to cut off their finger?


The answers to these last questions probably won’t appear in your book, but you will be able to answer them because you know your character so well!


Remember


Start with the surface stuff, then dig deep, then deeper.


Physical characteristics

Daily routine

Personality traits

Habits and fears

Whys

Inner wounds

Beliefs and morals

Add anything else you want or need! 😊


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