How to Build a Detailed Character Profile
Updated: Oct 24, 2018
Inspiration has struck and you are working on a new novel—woohoo! It’s one of the most exciting times of the writing process. You’ve determined your novel’s theme, written a general plot outline, and composed a list of characters.
Now it’s time to delve deeper. In order to create an immersive and engaging story, you must first figure out who your characters are, what they want, and where they are going. As outlined in this post, there are multiple aspects of your characters’ personalities and lives to consider when building an in-depth profile. Check out the categories and prompts below to help you get started.
Core Beliefs: the very essence of one’s self
What is the character’s personality type? What are the positive traits? What are the flaws?
How does the character view him/herself and the world?
What does your character believe in? Does s/he live by a particular mantra or support a cause?
Does s/he have a strong moral compass or code of ethics? Is s/he often skeptical and plagued by doubts?
What is the underlying emotion or need that often affects his/her decisions?
History: family tree and past events
Does the character know his/her origins? Did heritage or family ties play an important role in his/her upbringing and development?
Was s/he defined by a significant event in the past?
What are his/her emotional triggers?
What memories stand out? Do any relate to the present?
Aspirations: hopes and ambitions
What are the character’s goals and dreams?
What does s/he want most in the world?
What does his/her ideal future look like?
How does s/he define success or failure? Has the character already experienced a triumph or tragedy in pursuit of an ambition? Has it changed his/her goals going forward?
Representation: symbolizing a group or being a part of something bigger than one’s self
What is the character’s gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and culture? How big or small of a role have these aspects played in his/her growth and current situation?
What is his/her physical appearance? Is it pertinent to the story?
Has the character been sheltered within a certain culture or exposed to divergences in lifestyle and thought?
How does the character’s identity affect surrounding characters? How do surrounding characters influence this character’s identity?
Does the character embody a certain group, cause, or movement that relates to the plot or overarching theme?
Agenda: what needs to be accomplished
What is the character’s intent or ultimate goal as events unfold?
How will s/he bring it to fruition in spite of opposition?
Does s/he have a plan? How will s/he react if it’s thwarted?
Who else is needed to help him/her achieve the end goal?
Conflicts: struggles and obstacles preventing success
How much of the character’s struggles are internal or external?
If internal, is the source of the conflict of the heart, mind, or body?
Heart: Is love unrequited? Is love lost? Is a loved one on an opposing side? Is the character more empathetic or apathetic toward others?
Mind: Does the character suffer from mental illness? Are his/her morals and beliefs being challenged? Does s/he struggle with building mental strength or fortitude?
Body: Does the character have a physical impairment or disease that prevents action? Is there a serious risk of injury or death? What are the physical ramifications of his/her decisions?
If external, is the source of the conflict familial, cultural, political, environmental, etc.?
Is more than one external factor at play? How do they integrate to create adversity?
Do any of these factors oppose one another? Can the character turn some of these hindrances into a solution?
What skills/resources does the character have or need to combat these obstacles?
What are the rewards and risks for the character battling them? Are they greater than the initial problem?
Tone: style or manner of expression
Does the character have distinct mannerisms? In what types of situations are they more prevalent?
Does the character have a unique accent or speaking pattern?
Does the character use pitches in voice to communicate certain messages or moods?
Does the character’s body language reveal more than what’s spoken in dialogue?
Evolution: process of change or development
How does the character need to grow?
What situations will prompt this change for better or worse?
What is the end goal for the character? Where is s/he starting from and where do you want him/her to finish?
What are the emotional or physical indicators of this transformation?
Relationships: the state of affairs or dealings between people
Who are important people in the character’s life, and what influence do they have on the individual?
Who is needed to help the character evolve on his/her life journey? Who is an ally, and who is an enemy?
What is the character’s relationship status? Does s/he want to connect with others, or does s/he prefer to be alone?
Does the character have a great love? What would s/he be willing to do for that person?
How do the character’s feelings and actions ultimately impact those around him/her? Is the character self-aware of this impact and the consequences that can result?
While reviewing these categories and answering the important questions to build your characters’ profiles, you should also keep in mind that these elements are symbiotic and may change or evolve once you actually start the writing process. They will overlap and affect one another, as each is a piece in a much larger puzzle that will ultimately help you enhance your story.