Character Profile Sheets

If you like filling in forms, you'll enjoy this exercise.
If you like filling in forms, you'll enjoy this exercise.

I thought I would just write up a quick hub on this little literary tool. I often forget about sketching out my characters when I am in the middle of getting a story idea down on paper as quickly as I can. But the Character Profile Sheet is something that I need to make use of from time to time, when a character is getting lost.

Losing, or misplacing, or passing characters by is not something that necessarily happens to us all: I know that J.K. Rowling said of Harry Potter that he just walked into her head fully formed. Well, that's lucky for her. But it is not very useful for the rest of us. I did spend a little time, when I first started writing my novel, waiting for my hero/heroine to walk into my head fully formed. I waited. And I waited. I looked at my watch. I waited a little more. After a few weeks of this pointless wondering, I began to realise that he or she was not going to turn up, and that I was going to have to do something about it myself. You can't really have a novel without a hero (unless you're William Makepeace Thackeray, and even he was not really being truthful, because we all know that Becky Sharpe is the hero of Vanity Fair).

So I began to write the story anyway, and decided that the hero could join the party later. I wrote a couple of chapters without him at first. Then I felt ready to open the door to him. I sketched him in, quite roughly at first, gave him some lines to say, moved him around the set a little. He did start to take shape, began to grow some hair and got dressed (you can't have a naked character roaming around for too long, especially in a book that's going to be read by children, it's not right), bought himself a bike, got a job, developed a wishy washy sort of personality. But I always felt that he wasn't quite right. I was guessing at what he was like, allowing him to decide when he was ready to share bits of himself with me. Well, this was just not working - actually, it has not been working for almost three years! This poor hero has had some kind of multiple personality disorder, which would have been fine if that was what I had intended; unfortunately, I did really need him to just have the one persona. He was shy one minute, and cocky the next, knowledgeable about lots of things, but also stupid in the extreme. He really was a very mixed up little fella.

I looked at some of the personality transplants that he had gone through over the chapters, and chose one or two to play with. Firstly I tried on his likeable, confident, handsome, studious and incredibly witty skin; I expect you will be able to tell immediately that these traits could not work at all in anything that has been written by me, such a person just would not fit, being far too annoyingly perfect. No. So I tried an arrogant, obnoxious, know-it-all sort of temperament; fun as that might have been, it did not suit the story at all. Having tried only those two extremes I began to realise that just rewriting and rewriting my principal character was going to result in me taking at least twenty-five years to finish the book, and was rather a hit and miss sort of method.

Yesterday, (honestly, just yesterday) I remembered that I had created some character profile sheets. For some reason I had never completed one for this particular hero, but I knew that I had nothing to lose in filling one out right now. I began. His name. Well, I had thought that I'd chosen the correct name about two and half years ago; however, another name suggested itself to me, and I wrote it down. It fit. And just like that, things became clearer! All this time my hero had been hiding behind the wrong name. I filled in the rest of the sheet, and the categories, though they may present themselves as being dull and irrelevant, did actually make me think about the character I was trying to create more seriously. I had to make decisions as to his clothing, his politics, his education, his love life, his beliefs, and as a result the personality began to coagulate if you like, it all came together in a nice mouldable lump that is more easily workable. Before I filled in the sheet my boy's character had been something like the consistency of a crumble mixture, but post-sheet it held together like a very nice shortcrust pastry. Much better.

I borrowed my categories from several 'How To Write...' books, choosing the items that I thought would reveal the most about my characters. But you can build a character profile sheet to meet your own needs of course. Here is a sample of one of mine:

  • Name
  • Nickname
  • Address (this might seem unnecessary, and by all means, leave it out, but for me it helps to build a mental map of towns, streets, etc.)
  • Age and DOB (one little detail that you might never mention, but perhaps you, as the author, just need to know this information)
  • Physical Appearance (for you, it may not be necessary to know what your characters look like, you may be happy to leave these particulars blank and allow the reader to fill the details of appearance in for themselves - for some characters I leave lots to the imagine, but for others I prefer to be very definite)
  • Distinguishing features (you know, like a single long fingernail, such as those sported by Bond baddies - you never know, it might prove to be important)
  • Clothing (this might help to find out a bit extra about their personality, their attitudes, their income, etc.)
  • Walk (this may be a category that for some characters you will leave blank, but for others you will need to sketch out, for example, if they walk with a limp, or if they are always hunched over and hiding their face from the world)
  • Tone of Voice (their voice might never be elaborated on in your book, but it might be necessary for you to think of it when you write dialogue)
  • Education
  • Vocation/Occupation
  • Status and Money
  • Marital Status
  • Family/Ethnicity
  • Diction/Accent (you might not need this one, which is different from tone of voice, but if, like me, you do read in accents, this point might be essential for you to consider)
  • Relationships (this deals with every kind of relationship that your character might already have, and new ones that might develop on their journey through the story)
  • Places to be (home/office/school/car/bus - anywhere that you might put them)
  • Possessions
  • Recreational Interests
  • Obsessions
  • Beliefs
  • Politics
  • Sexual History (for a children's book, this is hardly relevant, but if you're not writing for children this might be useful)
  • Ambitions
  • Religion
  • Superstitions
  • Fears
  • Attitudes (Obsessions, beliefs, politics, ambitions, religion, superstitions, fears, might be all lumped together into one heading called 'view of the world', but I find it useful to break them all up and think about them individually)
  • Character flaws
  • Character strengths
  • Pets (you never know, this might be important somewhere down the line!)
  • Taste in books, music, etc.
  • Food preferences (there's usually food in a story)
  • Handwriting (you might not bother with this one, but I like it - I usually do a little sample of what the character's handwriting might be like, and it's surprisingly revealing, though I have no idea why)

This is all very prescriptive, and you can take it or leave it. And indeed, for some of my characters I don't seem to need to do any extra thinking about their personalities or their appearances, because I do already seem to know everything about them. You can add more categories, take some out, have as many as you like; it won't hurt to have plenty of information at your disposal, even if you find that you never use most of it.


A little sketch of one of my characters: this is Nym, an elf, by me!
A little sketch of one of my characters: this is Nym, an elf, by me!
Sketch for potential elven dwelling, by my brother.
Sketch for potential elven dwelling, by my brother.
Illustrated map of my imagined land, by my brother (apologies for lack of photographic quality).
Illustrated map of my imagined land, by my brother (apologies for lack of photographic quality).

Also, incidentally, I find the odd pencil sketch to be useful, if I can manage it. But since I'm not actually very artistic any more (I used to be, but I stopped practising) sketches are not just something I can do whenever I feel like it, I can only do them when I have a specific something in mind. If you have a talented brother, as I do, you might ask him to do some sketches for you.

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Comments 27 comments

Rosefall profile image

Rosefall 5 years ago from Ohio!

Nym is adorable! Great job!


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK Author

Oh, ha ha, thank you so much Rosefall (love your name, by the way!) She's quite real to me now - and I didn't even complete a profile sheet for her!

Linda.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Excellent points!


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK Author

Thank you Will.

Linda.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Thanks for posting this! I have never seen such a thorough character outline. It is perfect and I'll bet you it is helpful to others as well! Up/useful/awesome. I can utilize this for sure.


Joyce F profile image

Joyce F 5 years ago from USA

What a great list. I've only ever written two small books though I hope someday I'll get back to writing. But characterization was always a problem for me. This is a wonderful character profile sheet and will be very helpful.


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK Author

Glad to help RealHousewife! I'm glad that it might prove useful to you. All pinched from several sources, as I said - sometimes it's difficult to know what to add in a character profile if ideas don't just come to you out of the blue (as is the case with me!), so that's why I thought it might be useful to make some suggestions.

Thanks for the votes :D

Linda.


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK Author

Joyce, I can find it to be problematic too, especially when there's not so much dialogue. I'm okay when I can get my characters talking to others, but they can't talk all the time! That's when I come unstuck and need to be able to think about the way they move and what they might be thinking and so on.

I hope you do get back to writing. What are your two small books about? Did you have them published?

Linda.


barbergirl28 profile image

barbergirl28 5 years ago from Hemet, Ca

Thanks - I really could have used this a couple years ago. But I think I might just have to go ahead and use it now. I have been writing and rewriting this book for 3 years (possibly more). I know my main character pretty good, but it is the others that I keep forgetting about. The next thing you know Jane is Diane and Fred is Harry and I am like Whoah... how did you get in there!


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK Author

Oh, I'm so sorry I couldn't post it two years ago for you barber, lol. Please do use it if you think it will help. I've based some of my characters so closely on real people that I do forget the names that I have given them! I need to work on giving those characters their own identities, and move them away from the real people I know. I'll use these sheets to do that.

Good luck with sorting your characters out - hope this works for you.

Linda.


barbergirl28 profile image

barbergirl28 5 years ago from Hemet, Ca

I am going to get back into writing my book again. I took a break for awhile but I decided to get into a writer's group. Maybe some good support from local writer's will get this book ready for a good edit! Now if only I knew what the ending was ;) Got any good sheets for that! LOL


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK Author

Taking a break is good sometimes, so that you can come back to a project with some fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Ha ha, sorry, no, I have nothing to say about editing yet, because I have not been through that process myself. Well, I guess I've been through it with assignments, but never with creative writing. Give me another two years to finish the first draft of this piece, and I may be able to come up with something for you!!

A writers' group sounds like a good idea, especially if you're at the edit stage - you'll be able to share some work with other people and hopefully benefit from some constructive criticism. I hope it helps for you. Then you can let us know all about it :D

Linda.


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

I've never thought about, or been advised to write up, a character profile, but it does seem a rather daunting task. I did a job for an author who wrote children's books and he said it required the greatest degree of skill, as every word had to be perfectly accurate. JKR may have been told the same thing too and look where she is now. Good luck with your book, we'll all be queueing up for a copy.


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK Author

These are just profile sheets that are to help with the initial writing Keith, to get the character's fixed in the writers head, which is not very daunting because it's very freeing and no-one has to see them. But the kind of thing your author must have been talking about is more formal, for publicity or something like that, I'm guessing? That would be very daunting, as I suppose getting it wrong could be the difference between selling the book and not. Like writing the blurb for the back of the book - that's the kind of thing I'd struggle with, selling the book in that way.

Queueing for a copy, ha ha, now that would be something :D

Linda.


Ranzi profile image

Ranzi 5 years ago from All Over

Nice! A character profile sheet is very important for a novel. Thanks for reminding me. I used to also have to do this with an acting role I had to take on. I had to know even the smallest things about the character, such as favorite perfume, and song. And had to write a full biography about them going back their childhood and birth. This is extremely important in order to step into their essence.


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK Author

Hi Ranzi,

I never had to do that with an acting role, but what an excellent idea. We always just did role play 'in character', and generally just thought about what our characters were like from a physical aspect and filled in the backstory in our heads if we wanted to. But there was never any sitting down and writing out of details - perhaps there should have been! I can see how that would give a more rounded character, certainly, from what I've learnt from filling in the blanks of the characters I'm writing about in my book. It makes sense that it would work the same way for an actor.

Thanks for your comment.

Linda.


Johanna 5 years ago

Hi, I enjoyed this detailed discussion on character profiles. I've used a similar tool in prior works, although for my most recent novels (Christian fiction), I did not go through the full process and instead learned to get to know the characters as I studied and researched my story. Thanks for sharing!


ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 5 years ago from Reno, Nevada

Hi Lady...

This is a great tool to move my novel character ideas out of my head and into the air. Now...I don't appear to have a reason not to move forward...um...what do you have on establishing setting?? No...not looking for an excuse not to write....

Great Job!


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK Author

Hi ThoughtSandwiches (GREAT name!). Getting characters out of your head and into the air where you can at least have a proper look at them is indeed a step forward. Getting them onto the page is still to be done though.

Establishing setting? There's the hub on World-Building in a Fantasy Novel - I'll have to reread that myself actually, as I'm not sure if it would answer your question.

Mostly I do stuff like this, play with ideas, to avoid having to do any real writing at all. Really, one day, I must get on and write that novel.

Thanks for coming, and nice to meet you.

Linda.


maxdegler profile image

maxdegler 4 years ago from Indianapolis, IN

I've never placed much emphasis on coming up with the perfect character, but after reading this hub I think my characters actually run together a little bit without any clear distinction. Character sketches are a great idea. Thanks!


Fictioneer profile image

Fictioneer 4 years ago from Orlando, Florida

I also use the same type of grids; however, you have shown me where my grids need to be updated with the items that you have outlined in your Hub. Thank you for the ideas.


AhalitaMoonfire profile image

AhalitaMoonfire 4 years ago from Ohio

I love this and it is well put together, however, it not just got writers, artist also need to plan their characters out really well to.


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 4 years ago from Lancaster, UK Author

Hi Fictioneer. Yes, actually, that's a good idea, to update with new items. And different projects will require different depths of knowledge of your characters, so I would probably create new profile sheets for each story - or at least tailor them a bit.

Ahalita, hello. Thank you. I'd never thought of that, but yes, of course, artists too. I'll pass that tip on to my brother, if you don't mind, as he's an artist.

Linda.


AhalitaMoonfire profile image

AhalitaMoonfire 4 years ago from Ohio

that is fine I just thought I mention that, because I always use my characters artistly in my works of art, as well as story lines. :)


EKRonnie profile image

EKRonnie 3 years ago

This is great. I've done character profiles before, but this is well laid out. Totally stealing this by the way :P


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 3 years ago from Lancaster, UK Author

Have it! I stole it anyway :D

I hope you create some splendid and believable characters as a result.

Thanks for stopping by.

Linda.


RajPathania37 profile image

RajPathania37 14 months ago

...???

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