Creating profiles helps you breathe life into characters
As a kid, I had a small, blue notebook covered in drawings of monarch butterflies. One summer, I spent days on a South Carolina beach writing descriptions of people, families and friends I fabricated. I didn't realize it at the time, but these were early character profiles, broad sketches to be used as entrées into motivations and explanations in later stories.
For longer creative writing pieces -- novellas and novels -- I find character profiles to be enormously helpful. They help give definition and breathe life into people who only exist on paper. If ever I'm unsure how a character might respond to his circumstances, I refer back to the profile I created to remind myself of who he is and what drives him. This profile acts as a blueprint for a fictional person.
People are judged by their actions, not what they tell others about themselves. We know this to be true, yet some writers seem to forget it when creating their characters. They tell instead of show:
"Sharon doesn't have a close relationship with her daughter."
"Sharon and her daughter sat across from one another in silence. They might as well have been sitting side-by-side: The amount of eye contact would be the same."
The second telling is more alive, taking the reader along while discovering who these people are.
Numerous times, I've been stuck on a plot point or confused about who a character is turning out to be, and revisiting the profile sheds complete light on what's happening, why and what's next.
I'd love to hear if character profiles have or haven't worked for you! If you've never attempted one before, I've created a worksheet to get you started. It's chock-full of questions to help you navigate your small bud of a character, growing him/her into a quite-nearly real person.
Two pieces of advice if you feel like giving character profiles a go:
- Creating character profiles isn't a foolproof route into a living, breathing character. Rather, it's an exercise in helping your two-dimensional sketch to life.
- Avoid clichés by creating contradictions. The young magazine ingenue who wants to go from writing about shoes to covering politics? It's been done. The man who has a high-power job but struggles with loneliness? Yawn. Don't give into trope; you're better than that.
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