Character profiles – 9 writing tips

Lots of people write fiction. Some people write it very well. People also write for different reasons: some for themselves, some for their children, and others for a wider audience. One of the key components of any good fiction, and something all writers of this genre will have to learn to master, is character.

So, whether you’re writing for yourself, writing for an audience or just perfecting your skills, here’s a few things you can try to get you started (or to add a bit of depth to your existing character profile).

1) Visualise, source or draw your character ideas

This might sound silly to some of you but seeing your character can be a great way to help ‘humanise’ the way you write them. If a character doesn’t feel real then they really wont come across well. If you’re not a great illustrator that doesn’t matter – you can use photographs and images from all over to help inspire you.

2) Take inspiration from real life

Writing people who don’t yet exist (and doing it well) is difficult and requires superior observation and imagination skills. It can help to look at the behaviours and human qualities of the people around you – even strangers can offer great inspiration so you must always have your eyes peeled and fixed firmly into writer research mode – you never know what you might notice…

3) Try not to get bogged down in naming your characters

I’m pretty sure this has been said 1000 times before but it’s an important idea. Don’t make naming your character your first step. I often wonder how writers can name a character when they don’t really even know them yet. I mean, sometimes it feeds into plot but for the most part it just doesn’t work for me. I have to know what they look like and how they think – usually writing out a scene with them helps to consolidate how it is I want them to be. (This isn’t true for everyone, try it both ways and see which character you like best!)

4) Think like them

Ever heard of method acting? Well, this one’s kind of like that: It’s method writing. Taking a page or two to write in first person (even if your story isn’t going to be written from this perspective) and experiment with what you think your character would say, think and do. This can be a good exercise to help you get inside the heads of your characters and will help you get something down on paper.

5) Give your new characters recognisable flaws

People are bad, they’re good too, and a little more complicated than many people realise. What we do know is that nobody’s perfect. Your characters should reflect what it is to be human, to be flawed. Of course, your character may not be human at all, but it’s unlikely a character will be believable with no flaws whatsoever.

Plus, perfect characters are kind of annoying…

6) Remember they have a past (and write it)

This is one of my favourite exercises when I’m trying to get to know a character. Writing a back story is a fun way to define aspects of their personality – how did they get where they are today? What was their childhood like? Do they like dogs? If no, why? These questions can help create a character who’s interesting and developed and can also help explain explanations for whatever happens in your story.

7) Create both journeys

Ok, so title alone this makes no sense but I think I can explain what I mean. A character exists within a plot, yes? Well, that’s one story but to create a multifaceted written success with real depth you need an emotional one too, a personal journey. It’s often talked about as a ‘character arc’ and should show developments and changes within your character.

8) Let the plot and the character bounce off one another

Again, my title is obscure and vague (note to self: work on that) but I mean well, I swear. What I mean by this is don’t build a character with the express interest of making them fit the plot. Characters behaviour and choices in a narrative should be natural and make sense for the character based on their experiences, ethics and other defining characteristics. Instead of having a character agree to something they’d never do, have them find another way, or else have them find something that drastically changes their mind. There’s nothing worse than a journey that feels planned.

9) Don’t force it

Fabulously complex and troubled characters can be super fun to read about but if you don’t care about your character, neither will your readers so write about something you find interesting. Create a character that excites you and makes you eager to write – if a character idea isn’t sticking put it down and try again. You could always find a place for the first character later down the line.

There’s a great article on building a character profile here on writerswrite.com with a whole bunch of questions for you to answer about your new character – check it out if you need help getting started!


I hope you found these tips helpful, I’d love to hear about your own writing tips and tricks so I can get better myself! Share your wisdom in the comments below – till then, Happy writing.

  -Cat –

2 COMMENTS

  1. The Past Due Book Review | 28th Apr 17

    These are really good tips! Along the lines of people watching to get ideas for the visual aspect of characters, one of my professors in college had us eaves drop on a conversation between two people to pick up the cadence and rhythm of people speaking. There is a lot to learn from the way people interrupt each other and the lack of grammatical structure common in most conversations and this adds another layer of realism to your writing. Great post!

    • tackfiction | 28th Apr 17

      Thank you! I always find I can think of these exercises when I’m not writing but the second I start thinking up a character I’m in a complete frenzy and don’t know where to start! Eavesdropping is such a great idea! Thank you, I’ll have to remember that one!

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