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Character Profiles?

Hi guys

So, I've been attempting to continue writing through the madness.  Needless to say I have aged 10 years in a week trying to home school the monsters but I've been throwing them out for recess periods in order to attempt some dedicated writing time - its not going great.  Though I have been swatting up with some Jericho Masterclasses in between time, to get the writing juices flowing and understand the more technical aspects of writing. 

With this in mind I wondered how many of you create in-depth character profiles and at what stage in your process?

I have thus far 'winged it' in terms of character and allowed things to unfold naturally as I go, but I don't want to loose out in other aspects like plot direction.  I understand that both go hand in hand, as the characters thoughts and actions make decisions that guide the plot.

I'd be interested to hear other people's processes.



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Replies (6)
  •  Hi Louise!

    I'm in a similar boat here, the lack of quiet is the hardest thing I think! I really struggle to think straight with the kids here. Maybe we'll all get used to that and learn to write in the mayhem and it'll be a valuable skill in the future! 

    I have never created a character profile whereas I know other people who swear by them. I do tend to have quite a small 'cast' in my books, so I hold them in my mind while I'm writing and feel like I get to know them through the writing. By the end of the first draft, I know the so well that when I look back at the beginning I barely recognise them! I find it takes a  couple of drafts to fully flesh them out. 


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    • Ah, Louise, this is one of those questions that demands an answer of "Yeeessss…"

      Once upon a time, the thought of a profile wouldn't've made any sense to me. That was when I pantsed. Now, I'm an extreme plotter. I create backstory and psychological profiles for all my main (and quite a few secondary and tertiary) characters. Where they come from, what they've been through, their conflicts with other characters, the psychological glitches underlying those interactions.

      My process is evolving; the current project started without profiles, but it has been rewritten from scratch once already and is coming up on a second from-scratch writing. I have dozens of characters, each of whom has a written-up background, psychological profile, voice (where they are a PoV), appearance, list of relationships, and story arc (ways in which they change). I also, going into this third writing, have an outline that is about 25% of the book's final length.

      For my next project (after the other books in this series), I have already started doing something of the same. I have mapped out a very high level plot outline, which has identified who some key characters are: the protagonist, the antagonist, their personal relationship and what they don't know about each other. Now, each layer of plot refinement will trigger a layer of character refinement (or additional character definition), and those character refinements will, it turn, guide the subsequent layers of plot detail. So, yeah, chicken and egg - they develop in parallel.

      That's what works for me. But, as I said, extreme plotter.

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      • i write by the seat of my pants but the one thing I do, as well as a plot line is a little potted history for the characters - I need it in order to pick out the character flaws and issues in their past that still haunt/drive/inhibit them in the current narrative. You can do this as you go along but it helps if you know where there coming from to help them get where they're going. 

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        • If you let your imagination rip then perhaps your characters grow in ways you didn't initially expect. I prefer the initial outline approach. (Charracters' ages, gender, reliability (witness-wise), creativity etc Then wait to see what might happen...

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          • HI Louse, hope you're doing okay with all this COVID stuff. I don't do profiles, and it depends whether the story starts with a person in mind or a place. For me it's usually place. I then think out the kind of person I need to tell a story and start writing scenes between the characters, not necessarily anything to do with the plot, just to see how they interact. I'd say roughly 1 in 10 of those scenes would make it into the final draft. 

            I then write a rough outline, beginning, middle and end and decide how many of the characters are going to be POV, then I can choose their flaws, jobs, family etc. I have had a secondary character in my WIP become rather too prominent for the plot and had to revise madly, but I can't write it all out first, it's not for me. I need spontaneity more than planning. 

            Hope this is of some help.  

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            • Hi Louise,

              Hope you are making out OK!

              Regarding characters, I think it is essential that  you are able to crawl into another character's skin--all of them.

              One of the most interesting things about being a human being is that in almost every person we meet, even those we abhor, we can find something similar to us. This allows us to crawl into that person's skin and feel what they feel, see what they see.  If character checklists help with the process, that is great, but you can't build a character you don't know like the Bride of Frankenstein out of assembled parts from checklists. You have to write about people you know, or base your characters on people you have met and understand. You even have to love your antagonist--or it will never work.  As a famous author said (I forget who it was at the moment, might have been Jodi Picoult): "the best way to create a believable character is to love them"--or something like that.

              In the Preface to A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens said something along these lines:

              Dear Reader, you have no idea how much I suffered writing this book. I suffered every single agony that was suffered by every single suffering character. And it wore me out!  Whew!  Now I hope you enjoy it and appreciate all the suffering I did on your behalf dear reader!

              Not exactly that. But close.


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