Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Character Profiles

I love plotting tools and while most of them rarely work for me, there are a few that do, like yesterday's calendar. Another that has worked for me was creating a character profile. It got a bit anal retentive, but it ultimately worked because I was able to catch a serious flaw in a supporting character: I had a brother of my main character playing professional soccer football in Edinburgh (Hibs, duh), but then I had him at age 32. And there's no way Hibs are drafting an American 32 year old, that's just ridiculous. So I had to adjust either his age or what he did for the club. Details, details.

Here's what one of my character profiles looks like, and I've gone ahead and made this character up for the sake of this post.

Name: Stanky McStankstank

• Age 30, unhappy recycling plant manager, very smart
• Working class
• Enjoys time with friends
• Bad relationship with family (except father and brother)
• Unhappy with current beau
• Hides horrible secret from childhood

Stanky McStankstank is 30 and works as a recycling plant manager in Carson, NV. She doesn't really like her job, but it does use her waste management degree from Las Vegas University. She's worked there for 5 years.

Stanky is short, brunette, and passively feisty -- meaning she's snappy but not aggressive. She's very pretty, although she thinks she's just average. Men like her, although she's somewhat defensive against advances. This is due to the secret in her childhood.

Stanky lives in a small apartment in a complex in Carson. It isn't very pretty but she does live next door to Hottie McHothot, who she and her friends have drooled over for many years. Hottie is a total ladies man, but he's not interested in Stanky (or wasn't when they lived next door to each other anyway).

Stanky does not have a good relationship with her mother or her sisters. She does have a good relationship with her father, but he offers no support because he cowers from her mother. Her brother would be her support, but he's away on another continent. [I would add more here about her love interest and how it works out, but didn't want to here; you get the idea.]

I admit it's abnormally structured, but I was a technical writer in a former life and I really need to bullet crap out. Of course this kind of profile doesn't tell YOU much, but it tells ME everything -- and organizes my thoughts about a character and provides detail where I might otherwise have had a vague idea. It's that detail that can bite you in the arse, which is why tools like this and the calendar are helpful. When you're spinning words out at a high rate, you don't have time to keep track of details. Or you lose them, or you change them on the fly and then lose track of the changes.

Honestly, I don't come back to these character profiles often. For me, it's more of an exercise in forming the deeper details about a character. Once I write the profile, I'm good to go. The only reason I came back to a file recently was to double check a parent's name. This profile is really good for capturing that kind of extraneous information, including details like where the character went to school. I might not actually mention the school in the story, but I need to know it so I can know my character. I did a Google search on character profiles and found a crapload of information, mostly with very detailed lists like age, weight, height, etc. I find that too restrictive. I only used the information that would be relevant to my story and character in mine above.

Would something like this work for you? What about using it after writing -- or are you like me and once you've got it written, that's good enough?


Tina Lynn said...

I love the character profile structure laid out in the Snowflake Method. It was a godsend. I wish I lived next door to Hottie McHothot:D

Travener said...

I've tried this but basically fall back on tried-and-true methods of little notes written all over the place in near-unintelligible squiggles and keeping the rest of it in my head.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Tina -- interesting about the Snowflake method...do you know where to find specifics about the character profile? Here's the link to info about it in general for anyone not familiar: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php
Also Tina I'm sure Hottie McHothot looks like the guy from Starbucks.

Trav - whatever works for you is best...my profile is very restrictive.

Anonymous said...

I have a similar relationship with character profiles. Once they’re done, I don’t read them again. That way I’m not pressured to include every irrelevant detail. Character profiles are a way to inform character for me, not a yardstick by which to measure it. If I make a major change to character, I’ll alter the profile, but then I put it away again lickety-split.

Tawna Fenske said...

This is a terrific exercise. I'm just getting to know the characters in the book I'm about to begin writing, so I might have to give this a shot!


Amber Tidd Murphy said...

You are just full of tips this week - i love it. I haven't used character profiles for my current WIP since I am writing so much based on true experience. However, to turn reality into fiction is to make it more exciting that everyday life. I certainly have to stop sometimes and ask myself if changing certain details about "real" characters will make them more interesting, deeper. Then I have to remember the ways in which I have fictionalized them! What a great tool for organization.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Thanks guys!

Tawna thanks for commenting! You may not have known this but you and I are total BFFs :)

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

I'm a bullet point girl too. My outlines, character profiles, summaries, everything is bullet points. Makes me feel organized although no one else would be able to follow what the hell I'm saying in those notes.

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