Writing

Writing Great Characters: How to Create a Character Profile

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Dec 3, 2019 • 4 min read

Great fiction writers know their characters intimately. If you know the details of your characters’ lives, you’ll strengthen every component of the writing process—even if the full span of a fictional character’s backstory doesn’t make it into the final version of a book, film, or TV show. Building a deep understanding of your characters takes time and requires a methodical approach. In order to flesh out your main character and supporting characters, you might use a tool known as a character profile.

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What Is a Character Profile?

A character profile is a detailed portrait of a character you have created for a work of fiction—a novel, novella, short story, film, TV show, or web series. Your character profile is a record of everything you know about your character, from their origins and backstory to their personality traits and physical appearance. You can also note their relationships, daily routines, hopes, fears, and motivations.

Character profiles may also be referred to as character bibles, character templates, or even character sketches (although the term “character sketch” often refers to something shorter).

What Is the Purpose of a Character Profile?

Seasoned authors know that you can never have too much information about the fictional characters that populate your creative writing. The information that you amass as you fill out a character profile template is useful in many stages of the novel writing or screenplay writing process. If you’re armed with enough information about your character’s life, personality, and physicality, you’ll probably end up using it somewhere in the writing process—even if it’s just to guide your own estimation of how a character would act under particular circumstances.

Remember, though, that not every trait will make it from your character profile worksheet to the first draft of your book or screenplay—and that’s perfectly fine. Perhaps certain details will only manifest in subsequent drafts, or perhaps they won’t appear at all. Your character development work will still prove valuable throughout the writing process. The more you develop at this stage, the more likely you are to create characters who feel like real people.

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4 Elements of a Character Profile

A good character profile will include ample information in these four categories:

  1. Backstory: In crafting a character profile, you should be able to answer this list of questions: What is your character’s full name? What is their place of birth and birth date? Who are the family members who shaped this character’s life? When you think of key family members, give them their own profile including the character’s name, origins, and backstory.
  2. Physical description: You should know a lot about your character’s appearance and how their looks shape their interactions with others. Physical traits to mention include: eye color, hair color, hair style, physical mannerisms, body type, distinguishing features, coordination or lack thereof, fitness, and key weaknesses (like a maimed hand or an aversion to Kryptonite).
  3. Personality traits: In addition to your character’s outward appearance, you need to know what makes them tick. What is their personality type? Are they funny? Do they have a temper? Are they motivated to protect a loved one—perhaps even an unrequited love? Do they have particular virtues? Bad habits? Any fears or phobias?
  4. Typical routine: As part of your brainstorm, you’ll also want to fill in information about your character’s daily routine. What kind of activities does your character like? Who are their best friends? Their enemies? What’s their marital status? What’s their favorite food, favorite book, and favorite movie?

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How to Create a Character Profile

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Character creation is part of a writer’s overall world-building process. Consider the process of developing characters to be as important as shaping the plot itself. Here are three writing tips to keep in mind when shaping your character profiles:

  1. Create a character outline. Your book or screenplay will have a plot outline. Why not create a character outline as well? In addition to traits and backstory, create a chronology that shows the changes that your character will experience over the course of the story.
  2. Make a character questionnaire. Create a character profile template by coming up with a fixed set of questions that you ask yourself about every major character in your story. If you ask the same questions about all your characters, you’ll be able to compare them side-by-side and make sure that their character traits are unique. You’ll also be able to predict how they’ll interact once you drop them into a shared story.
  3. Don’t censor yourself. Character development is a subset of the larger brainstorming process, and brainstorming is a time to say yes to any idea that crosses your mind. During this stage of creation, allow yourself to make up any sort of reality you want for your characters. Some of your ideas won’t hold up under further scrutiny, but such scrutiny will come later in the process. At this juncture, let your imagination run wild and trust that you’ll refine your work later on in the writing process.

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