Building Character: Save Your Sanity With This Time-Saving Story Trick


Following along with this week’s topic, we’re going to delve further into the concept of character. So today’s writing-related Challenge of the Week, as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page, is to fill out a thorough character profile.

What’s a character profile, and why do you want to fill it out?

It’s basically just a recorded rundown of a character’s looks and personality traits. And you fill it out to save yourself a lot of grief.

In most stories, especially those involving humans or human substitutes, you’re going to have a whole list of characters. There will be your main one (or ones), your secondary figures and your tertiary ones. Completely forgetting about the tertiary ones for the moment, there might still be a lot of secondary ones.

Take my first fantasy book, Not So Human. There’s Sabrina, the protagonist, and then all of these other integral figures:

  • Deanda, the best friend

  • Mr. Smiley, the main HPAC villain

  • Michael, a bodyguard

  • Richard, another bodyguard

  • Kenneth, the older brother

  • Kyla, the sister-in-law

  • Alistair, the nephew

  • Dallas, the love interest

  • Alex, the ex-boyfriend

  • Dr. Stewart, the creepy HPAC psychologist

  • Dr. Morrison, the calculating HPAC medical researcher

  • Dr. McCullough, the much more sympathetic HPAC physical therapist.

In case you were wondering, HPAC stands for Human Preservation and Advancement Committee, a faerie-hating organization that’s made Sabrina its #1 target. And unfortunately for her, it’s got agents everywhere.

As a result, the list above isn’t complete. There are probably another half-dozen figures I could mention who make repeated and important contact with Sabrina. That’s a lot of names to keep straight, much less their corresponding appearances and temperaments across a 100,000-word manuscript.

That is unless you have a character profile for each one of your important storybook figures.

Take it from me, someone who’s much better at preaching than practicing this kind of thing. (I’m a pantser. What can I say?) Not filling them out leads to numerous headaches as you try to remember who has smoky gray wings and who has bright blue ones, wasting five minutes or more searching through what you’ve already written down to find said data.

It’s a pain in the neck, to say the least. So do as I say, not as I do, and fill out a character sketch every time you introduce a new major character into your story.

If you’re a visual learner, then here’s an example of what a character sketch can look like. It’s actually one of the worksheets I give out to my Novel Writing I students at the Community College of Baltimore County.

And this is what it might look filled out:

As you can see above, you don’t need to fill out every single space for positive and negative personality traits. In fact, in my attempt to fill out as many spaces as possible, I duplicated "Independent." Fortunately, this isn’t a test where you lose points for stupid mistakes like that or not completing the whole form.

Just enter in what you need to know for your story, and store your character profile somewhere safe.

You’ll breathe a sigh of relief five chapters later when you need to recall those details – and can find them by simply flipping to your jotted-down notes.

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