Updated: Mar 13, 2020
I’ve admitted this before and I’ll admit it again…
When it comes to creating character profiles for my novels, I’m an absolute, complete and total hypocrite. I tell everyone to stay organized, and then I don’t come even close.
Honestly, I don’t even try.
This is because I’m about as impatient as a person can possibly be. If I email someone and they don’t get back to me within four hours, I start to stress. In restaurants, I wonder where my food is two minutes after I’ve placed my order.
(Not that I ever let my server know. Obviously, I’m being ridiculous and that’s not their fault.)
And when it comes to novel writing, I’m an all-in, no-holds-barred “pantser”: someone who simply sits down and starts typing without an outline of any kind. I hate the very thought of having to delay my ability to write the next line, paragraph, segment or chapter.
I also don’t see myself changing in this regard any time soon, if ever. Which means I’ll continue to suffer the consequences of my impatience.
However, you don't have to.
That section above isn’t meant to put down pantsers, for the record. I love being a pantser every bit as much as I hope my organizational opposites love being plotters.
It’s just that, when it comes to creating character profiles… it’s much wiser to take a page out of the plotter guidebook. Not that I’m going to.
You, however, can save yourself some major hassle by accepting this week's Writing Challenge.
Keep character profiles to stay sane and organized.
One way to keep your most-mentioned characters’ traits straight is to make a series of character profiles. These are extremely worthwhile, time-saving sheets to keep on hand. Here’s what to do...
Have a separate page or spreadsheet entry for each reoccurring character described in your story. Include at least their eye color, hair color, height and body type. If they have any visible scars or marks on them, record those too. That way, the next time they pop up in your story, you won’t have to go digging for their details.
And believe me when I say that they will pop up. It doesn’t matter how vividly you “see” them in your mind when you first write them down.
When writing a novel, your brain has a whole lot of details to keep track of. Something or somethings are bound to get lost along the way.
Creating character profiles isn’t difficult. It’s not even time-consuming, taking you maybe five minutes to complete.
All you need is a favorite notebook or on-screen page with a section specifically devoted to keeping your characters straight.
As mentioned in the actual Writing Challenge, you’ll most definitely want to include your most-mentioned characters’ physical traits. This means at the very least listing each one’s eye color, skin color, hair color, hair style, height and body type.
Basically anything that seriously stands out about them that you’ve mentioned or plan to mention later on is worth noting.
You can also list off their predominant personality traits, since it’s amazing how easy it is to mess those up. Writers will too often have a character display some drastic, unexplained shift in behavior or temperament in order to fit the plot. Which is never a good idea.
Forcing a pre-established personality to say something or do something out of “character” can ruin your readers’ trust in your novel… possibly prompting them to stop reading that story and/or never pick up another of your works again.
In short, do as I say, not as I do when it comes to creating character profiles.
Write them out and get them over with already. You’ll save yourself a lot of hassle when you do... even if it's just a matter of having to flip through your last hundred pages to find a detail you know you've forgotten.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on character creation here.