Character Profiles

Rabbit - playI used to be one of those writers who groaned at such things.  Looking back, I’m not really sure why.  Maybe because at the beginning of my journey I was just enjoying free writing.  Maybe because back then I’d only just written my first novel, so I hadn’t really realised their value.  Maybe because the mentorship has made me more focussed on the intricacies of plot and characterisation and the craft of writing.  Whatever the reason, now I can’t live without them.

Once I’ve sat with my characters through an entire first draft, it’s time to develop their character profile.  This way, in the second draft I know exactly what’s important to them and their story.  Some people would do this before the first draft, and maybe one day I will too (my techniques keep changing as I become more experienced) but for now that would terrify me.  I’d freeze, because I wouldn’t know what to write.  But after the first draft, I do, because I’ve had the freedom of playing with the characters and learning about them through their experiences and decisions.

Kate gave me a wonderful resource sheet I’ve been using, which includes a set of questions you must be able to answer about each character.  Some of the questions are more physical and descriptive in nature, but my favourites are:

  1. Their best qualities / strengths
  2. Their worst qualities / weaknesses
  3. What do they desire most?
  4. What is their greatest fear?
  5. What kind of childhood did they have?  How does that change their character now?
  6. How will they change through your story?  What lessons do they need to learn?

These questions sound simple enough, but when you have these things clear, your characters will suddenly become 3D.  Back story will naturally thread within their current tale, and they’ll begin to interact with each other in new and fascinating ways.  It also makes it much easier to tighten each scene, making every event in the book reveal things about each character; scenes that test their strengths and play on their weaknesses, or a plot where their greatest fear gets in the way of their strongest desire.  These thing can be used to create a character arc across the story where the reader witnesses your characters change and grow.

What has surprised me the most is question number five.  Strangely enough, this isn’t always something people naturally think about.  Yet whenever I do, suddenly my characters make so much sense to me.  Suddenly it’s clear why they’re anxious and constantly finding things to worry about, or why they’re an extrovert always vying for others’ attention, or why they’re a bully.  This is where the character’s back story suddenly comes to life in my mind, which then naturally weaves into the second draft.

Anyone else use character profiles?  Or have interesting questions to add to my list?

4 Responses to “Character Profiles”

  1. 1 Kathleen Noud April 19, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Hey girl. Thanks for sharing Kate’s character questions. I like to do this sort of stuff after my first (vomit) draft as well. That way I get to know them better before I start judging or manipulating them. I know my Pandora’s childhood because it is still playing out and is messy (yeah, I’m a bad person) but it is something I need to consider for all my characters.

  2. 2 Katherine Battersby April 19, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Love your name for first drafts! The perfect description for the mess and chaos of them.

    I suppose character profiles are easiest to fill out for your protagonist because you spend the most time in their head. But I love the feeling of the secondary characters coming alive as I learn more about them. Awesome name for your protag, by the way.

  3. 3 Madeline Stephenson April 20, 2009 at 3:21 am

    I am at the point now in my novel where I have to know more details about my characters before I can move on. For me, not knowing means everything I am writing is boring and I eventually come to a halt and wonder what’s next. I can see myself refining a character profile after a first draft, but I’ve found that simply free-writing doesn’t work for me for the entire first draft. I love these questions and I plan to spend a couple hours on them with my characters today!


  4. 4 Katherine Battersby April 21, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Hope you enjoyed using the questions to explore your characters, Mady. I know your latest draft is just going to sing afterwards.

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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