Monday, August 8, 2011

How to Create a Complete Profile for Your Character - And Why You Shouldn't Use It

You’ve got the world. You’ve got the beginnings of a story.

You’ve got in place a fantastic setting with brilliant scenery and extraordinary sights. You’ve got a plot that will knock the socks off of your readers.

Now all you need is a main character!

Creating one is easier said than done, but don’t get dejected too quickly. We all want to take our readers on the journey of their lives, and you can’t do that without a loveable, emotion-invoking, step-off-the-page real life character.

Your readers have got to feel that they know the character personally. The best books, the ones that keep you up at night, set your heart racing, make you cry and cheer and laugh, those are the ones with truly great characters.

The first step to emulating this, to really creating one of these life-like characters, is to give them a background. Where did he come from? Where is she living right now? What are her hopes, dreams, wishes, interests, and hobbies? What is his personality like?

For your readers to suspend disbelief and fall in love with your character, you have got to get to know them first.

How a Character Profile Can Help

Creating a profile or a background for the character you’re trying to develop can help a lot when it comes to bringing your character from flat and stale to life-like and breathing. It can help you get to know your character, answering questions about them that you may not have thought of.

A character background can help you discover and fill out their personality, giving them basic traits, flaws, quirks, and ideas that will make them more real to your readers. You can discover their motives, what really makes them angry, or what their passionate about and how they show it. Knowing your character inside and out is what’s important for you, the author and creator.

How to Get that Back-Story

There are several things that you can do to get to know your character before you ever touch that first draft. You can go the option of creating your own character profile, writing down or just thinking through your character’s name, birthplace, and basic traits. There are, however, websites to help you and get you thinking. Here’s one of my favorites:

Sites like this one are great for getting to know your character and answering questions about them.

It’s also a good idea to starting writing in your character’s voice. Practice dialogue between a few of your characters and see what personalities come out. Write out a short story from your character’s life to get to know their motivations and the events that have shaped them. Free write whatever comes to mind about your character.

The first step to a memorable character is for the author to know them completely, and doing these things can help you with that goal. The characters you create have to be real to you before they’ll be real to anyone else.

Why You Should Put Aside That Profile Sheet

You’ve been wondering about this one the whole post, haven’t you? It’s a good question, even though perhaps it’s a little bit of a strange one. Here’s the answer:

Your reader doesn’t want to hear the whole long story of your character’s background.

Simple as that.

These profile sheets and exercises are absolutely necessary for you as an author to discover your character, but your reader doesn’t want to know every event of your creation’s life. Too much back-story can be overwhelming and boring, and most background information does not move the plot forward.

What to Do

Go ahead, make your character sheet! Practice dialogue and write small segments from your character’s point of view. You need these things to fully understand your creation. After all, you’ve got to know them so well that you can predict their every action.

Include back-story in your novel.

Yes, I said it. Some background can be very helpful in your plot, and a small amount of it is necessary. Back-story skillfully woven into your novel can work well in helping the reader know and understand your character, but too much is still too much. It’s important to get the right balance and to know how to correctly work in background information.

Since this post is already a long one, check out next week’s for how to work in character back-story!

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