Welcome to the first post in my Writing a Novel series. Today we will be looking at character profiles.
Usually when I am embarking on a new novel, I plot first, then do character profiles. This time around, my characters, specifically my main character, have been clamouring to be heard. My plot, at this point, is still not completely clear in my head, but the characters already have very strong voices. So this time around I am starting off with character profiles (and hoping once I know them and their motivations a bit better, the plot will become more clear).
A few years ago I discovered ywriter and one of the great features is that you can include character bios (which can be as detailed as you want), including their goals. There is even a tab for including a picture!
I spent far too much time searching Google images for pictures that fit my character descriptions, but it really made me think about how my characters look and even helped me develop their personalities (of course Nyssa has to be smiling in her picture, because she is such a positive, happy character). The Mac equivalent to ywriter is Scrivener, though I’ve never used it, so I’m not sure if it has a similar feature.
For the bio, I kept it simple at this stage. I included age, physical features, family, personality traits (both positive and negative) and goals. You can see an example of a character bio on the post NaNoWriMo — Character Outline.
With the character’s basic personality now in mind, it’s time to delve deeper. I like to do character interviews with the main characters to really bring the characters to life. In my post, Creating 3D Characters: The Character Interview, I talk about this more in-depth and provide some examples of questions to ask that really get to the heart of your character. And in my post, NaNoWriMo — Character Outline I show how these questions might be answered (using Harry Potter as an example).
Visualising Your Character
There are so many fun, creative ways to do this. Here are a few of my favourites:
- A character collage. Write your character’s name at the top of a piece of blank paper and grab a heap of old magazines, some scissors and some glue. Cut out things that would suit your character and stick them on the paper. Does your character have brown hair? Cut out a actress with brown hair. Does your character love music? Cut out a picture of an ipod. Does you character wear jeans? Does your character love animals? Is your character a doctor?
- Sketch. Blank paper + pencil. It doesn’t matter if you’re not very good at drawing, you’re the only one who will see it. Add labels, eg: ‘blue eyes’, ‘sword’, ‘permanent smirk’. Make it more than just a picture to show what they look like, let their personality and the setting of the novel shine through, too.
- Powerpoint. This is especially good if you have several main characters. On each slide find a picture to represent how you imagine your character to look, then accompany with dot points that describe your character’s personality.
So is it really necessary to make such an in-depth profile of your character before you begin writing your novel? It’s really up to the author. For me, I find having looked at my characters in such an in-depth way before I begin I am able to really immerse myself in my character’s head as I write and their voices come across more naturally. Also, I don’t have to flick back to page seven to remember what eye colour my MC has or to page fifty to remember if my MC’s best friend has two sisters or three, because I know them so well (or if I really have forgotten, it’s much easier to just refer back to my character profile, than find where I mentioned it).
What do you do to develop your characters before you begin writing? Or do you just jump right in and let them develop as you write?