Which is more important: characters or plot?
A great story begins with characters. Without a relatable and authentic cast, stories fall flat. Character development is vital for providing depth, a relatable story arc and narrative drive.
Creating character profiles helps you gain a clearer picture of your cast, enabling you to delve deep into their appearances, backstories, behaviours and motivations.
A character profile also makes an excellent reference tool, helping to prevent inconsistencies that spoil stories for readers. Readers need to be able to trust the narrative and, if a main character’s eyes change from blue in chapter one to green in chapter fifteen, for example, they will be pulled out of the story and their faith in it will be jeopardised.
Not all the information in your character profiles will make it into your story but no material is insignificant. The more you know about your characters, the more convincing they will be for readers. Include anything that comes to mind about your characters, however small. Most writers find it easiest to begin with appearances before moving onto backstory and so on but you can build your characters in any order that works for you.
Character profile template
Begin by downloading our free, character profile template and fill it up using some of the suggestions in the sections below, adding any extra traits and insights that come to mind.
You may also find it helpful to do a sketch of each character or stick on an image from a magazine to stimulate ideas.
Start by deciding your character’s name. Baby name websites can be great places for sourcing ideas and there are plenty of free resources online.
If you’re finding it hard to choose, move onto exploring other aspects of your character. Once you have a clearer picture, it should be easier to pick a name that fits.
Character traits you could explore include:
- Age and date of birth
- Place of birth
- Eye colour
- Hair colour
- Facial features
Now use your character profile template to explore your character’s backstory. You may need to use a notebook to delve into your character’s past, letting it flow out onto several pages, then write the main points on your template so that they are easy to see.
- What was their childhood like?
- Where did they grow up?
- Who were their role models?
- What was their happiest memory?
- What was their saddest memory?
- Who were their friends?
- Do they have a criminal record?
- What have been the turning points in their life?
- Describe their family
- Do they have a love interest?
- What are they like in a relationship?
- What about any enemies?
- What events have influenced them? These may be historical.
- Who do they turn to for support?
The behaviour traits you list in your character profile will help you work toward understanding the motivations and goals of your characters. Dig deep into their minds. Discover what’s going on in their hearts and souls.
- What are their strengths?
- What are their weaknesses?
- Are they optimistic or pessimistic?
- What do they fear?
- What is their idea of happiness?
- Are they introverted or extroverted?
- What (or who) makes them angry/sad/happy?
- What keeps them awake at night?
- What do they desire?
Once you’ve established your characters’ appearances, backstory and behaviours, journey deeper to establish the motivations, goals, flaws, and needs that drive them.
Without motivations, there is no story so these are crucial to establish.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What does my character need/want?
- What is their biggest challenge?
- What’s stopping them from getting what they want?
- What life lessons does my character need to learn?
If you want to understand your characters further, try carrying out personality tests. There are lots of different ones available. Try the free, 16Personalities tool online, for example. It could help you get a richer understanding of who your characters are and why they do the things they do.
Creating characters can be great fun. Let them show you the story.