From Goals to Quirks: My Pre-Draft Character Profiles
This is going to be my last craft post pre-Nano. I hope you fellow writers have found some helpful ideas to work into your own process!
Jess Stork asks: What kind of preparation do you do when planning your characters?
I admire writers who begin the drafting process by creating incredibly thorough profiles for their characters—you know, the ones that cover their favorite color, most embarrassing childhood memory, and most prized possession. I can see the value in creating such a detailed profile for your characters, but I don’t have the patience for them myself. Believe me, I’ve tried.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t give any forethought to my characters before I start writing. My profiles just tend to be more focused on the elements of the character’s personality that I’m confident will play a role in the story.
They typically include:
Physical appearance. Self-explanatory.
Biggest goal or desire. If you write down only one thing in your character’s profile, let this be it! Goals lead to motivation lead to suspense (will she get it?) lead to conflict when you throw obstacles in the character’s path. Desires also make your character relatable to the reader, because everyone knows what it feels like to want something.
Flaws/weaknesses. Perfect characters are boring characters. Make sure yours has at least one flaw or weakness. Ideally this will be a flaw or weakness that gets in their way of achieving the above goal.
Biggest Fear. This is related to flaws and weaknesses, but not always the same thing.
For example, one of Cinder’s flaws is being insecure and ashamed of her cyborgness. Alternatively, she is afraid of being selected for the cyborg draft, and later she’s afraid that Kai will discover her secret.
In my opinion, this is the second most important thing to learn about your characters, after their goals or desires. Because whatever they’re afraid of, they should have to face it at some point during the story!
Bonus: Spend some time brainstorming ways in which your character can overcome their flaws, weaknesses, and fears. Voila—you’re creating both plot obstacles and a character arc!
Backstory. Lastly, I spend some time figuring out the character’s basic history, particularly with regards to how it impacts their relationships with the other characters in the book, and how it might have led to the forementioned goals, desires, flaws, and fears. Do they get along with their parents? Do they have siblings? How long have they known their best friend? Have they been through any hugely traumatic experiences? Have they ever had their heart broken? And so on.
(I’ll often include these items in my character profiles as well, but don’t spend quite as much time on them. Some of them will naturally crop up during the writing, too.)
Occupation or school grade (if applicable). People spend a lot of time at their jobs, so if your character works, try to choose a job that makes sense for the story. The opportunities for settings, plot-points, and potential conflicts are going to be vastly different for a pilot than a cocktail waitress.
Hobbies. What does your character do in their free time? Do they begin the story with an interest or passion in these things, or does it develop over the course of the story?
Character quirks. These are usually represented by physical or speaking ticks (i.e., Cinder is always fidgeting with her gloves). However, this could also be something about the way they dress, an interesting collection they have, or some unusual habit. Everyone has quirks—how obvious or unusual they are will impact both how the other characters and how your reader perceives them.