In my last blog, “Getting to Know Your Omniscient Narrator,” I promised to share my personal character profile sheet. I used to use it on my primary and secondary characters for all my stories. But I haven’t use it in awhile. When I took a look at it, I realized it needed serious revamping. So, here’s the new and improved version.
In the process of revamping it, I realized my writing is stronger when I take the time to really figure out who my characters are: what their quirks are, what makes them an individual. My subconscious can then go to work connecting dots, finding patterns, devising solutions to problems that are uniquely suited to that character, discovering actions and reactions that FEEL right.
I know some authors use a basic RGP character sheet, such as Dungeons & Dragons, but for me, that doesn’t go far enough.
Knowing that my protagonist’s favorite ice cream flavor is peach pecan and they turn very dark and maudlin when they drink tequila may never come up in the story… but it might. Knowing lots of little details about them helps you inhabit your characters and makes them feel more alive.
Newly Expanded Character Profile Questionnaire
by Tina L. Jens
Some of these questions are circle the answer or fill in the blank; some need a one word answer, others will need a brief essay. You don’t have to answer all the questions. You can, and probably should, skip around and jump back and forth. As one answer becomes clear to you, it may spark an answer to an earlier question you left blank. You can also attach a picture to the document.
I often fill the form out for both my protagonist and my antagonist. I’ve also done a shortened version for secondary characters who were feeling wooden or coming across as stereotypes.
Nickname parents use
Nickname friends/lovers use
Genre or tone of story
Story’s setting:( location and time period)
Purpose or intent for story
Character’s problem or goal (character weaknesses should relate to this)
Character’s motivation to solve or achieve it
Gender ID & Sexuality
Weight & Is it an issue?
Adaptive devices (glasses, cane, etc)
Current residence (town/city, state, country)
Type of lodging – (physical details)
Main mode of transportation & peculiarities of vehicle
Are they any good at it?
Is it the job they want; if not, what job do they dream of?
Hours they keep
Weapons; be specific
Special tools and props
How do they dress
Where do they shop
What they hate to wear
What they wear to bed
Personality Types – circle or fill in the blank at the end
Joker/Class clown or All business
Teacher’s (Boss’) Pet or Rebel
Eco-Warrior or Wastrel
Artist/Musician /Writer/Actor/Poet/Poet at heart
Worrier/Insecure or Inflated Ego/Arrogant
Optimist or Pessimist
Stressed out or Serious or Laid back
Shark or Naive
Always on the make or Do-gooder
Delicate/Frail or Tough as nails
Insecure or Know-it-all
Athletic or Desk jockey
Gender-bending or Gender-roll traditionalist
Humanitarian or Misanthrope
Chip on the shoulder or Zen
Earth mother or Techno-geek
Highly educated or Poorly educated
Liberal or Conservative
Favorites & Hates
Subjects in school
Type of Music
Type of Movie
Type of TV show
Hobbies (& are they any good at it)
What do they collect
What can’t they throw out
Life In General
Meal prep: carry-out, microwave, good cook?
What is the most important appliance in their life?
What kind of competition are they most likely to win?
What kind of competition are they most likely to lose?
How, and how well, do they sleep?
Long term goals
Motto or Philosophy of Life – Circle one or fill in the blank
You can’t always get what you want
Don’t worry, be happy
Details, details, details
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Never trust anyone over 30
Beware of strangers
It’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it
No man is an island
When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping
The one who dies with the most toys wins
C’est la vie
Do unto others….
It’s hell getting old, but it beats the alternative
If you want a job done right, give it to a woman
There’s nothing to fear but fear itself
You’ve come a long way, baby!
Hometown (town, city, state, country)
Quality of childhood
What were they like in school?
College degree & major
Marital/dating status (Details!)
Parents: names, occupations, marital status, residence, alive or dead?
Relationship with parents
What’s their favorite memory of them with a parent
What’s their favorite memory of a grandparent
Relate better to men or women
Brief description of best friend
Brief description of worst enemy (may or may not be villain)
Villain/rival’s most pertinent characteristics & goals
Character’s primary weakness or flaw
(should be directly related to primary plot point & villain’s strengths)
Relationship to other characters
Soft spot for who or what?
Other issues – directly related to the problems they face
Which public person do they most dislike & why?
Who is their hero & why?
Who is their role model & why?
Talents and Flaws
Strengths & Talents – especially peculiar ones
Flaws & Weaknesses – Give them lots of them!
What do they think their worst habit is
What do friends/strangers think is their worst habit
What 1 thing the sidekick/villain does that irritates them most
What 1 thing they do that irritates their sidekick/villain most
Emotions – how do they do they express:
Sense of humor
Favorite swear words
What makes them cry?
What makes them ecstatically happy?
What scares them?
What creatures scare them?
You’re not done yet
Give them 3 more flaws
Give them 2 more talents
What else scares them?
Give them one more flaw
What was the most important thing that ever happened to them – the defining moment that made them who they are?
What else should we know about them?
That’s the new character worksheet. I will often accompany this with a picture taken from the web or a magazine. (Rolling Stone uses some really creative photographers including Annie Leibovitz, who has done dozens of compelling fantasy-based photos, often casting musicians and actors as characters from fairy tales and fantasy stories. Check some of her other images out here.)
Did I leave anything out of this expanded worksheet? Post a comment with your suggestions below.
Meanwhile, you might enjoy some of my other blogs.
The Point of View Series
Part 1: A Few Questions to Get You Started
Part 2: Who is Your Point of View Character?
Part 3: A Closer Look at Some POV Styles Commonly Used in Fantasy (Starting with Some Intriguing Uses of 2nd Person)
Part 4: 1st Person and Tight Limited 3rd – A Closely Related Duo
Part 5: The Younger Sibling of 1st & Tight Limited 3rd: Simple Limited 3rd & The Case for Choosing A Single-Character POV
Part 6: Serial POV – In its Myriad Forms
Part 7: The Multiple Personalities of Omniscient 3rd Person: Spotlight on “Reporter”
Part 8: The Multiple Personalities of Omniscient 3rd Person: Spotlight on “Head-Hopper”
Part 9: “Head-Hopper” – A Correction and a New Example
Part 10: The Multiple Personalities of Omniscient 3rd Person: Spotlight on “Folksy Narrator/ Storyteller”
Part 11: Getting to Know Your Omniscient Narrator
Others in my craft series include:
The 9 Aspects of Story Promise
A Look at How Peter Straub Crafts His Opening Chapters
Researching the Tropes
Seven Common Approaches to Stories That Use Mythology, Fairy Tales & Other Established Source Material
It Was Only A Dream…
Story in Its Many Forms
When the Form Is the Story
The Skeleton Matters (Or, Why It’s Not OK to Skip Scenes in Your Third Act)
Tina L. Jens is a 2017 Rubin Family Fellowship recipient for a residency at the Ragdale artists retreat. She has been teaching varying combinations of Exploring Fantasy Genre Writing, Fantasy Writing Workshop, and Advanced Fantasy Writing Workshop at Columbia College-Chicago since 2007. The first of her 75 or so published fantasy and horror short stories was released in 1994. She has had dozens of newspaper articles published, a few poems, a comic, and had a short comedic play produced in Alabama and Florida and two others chosen for a table reading by Dandelion Theatre in Chicago. Her novel, The Blues Ain’t Nothin’: Tales of the Lonesome Blues Pub, won Best Novel from the National Federation of Press Women, and was a final nominee for Best First Novel for the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild awards.
She was the senior producer of a weekly fiction reading series, Twilight Tales, for 15 years, and was the editor/publisher of the Twilight Tales small press, overseeing 26 anthologies and collections. She co-chaired a World Fantasy Convention, a World Horror Convention, and served for two years as the Chairman of the Board for the Horror Writers Assoc. Along with teaching, writing, and blogging, she also supervises a revolving crew of interns who help her run the monthly, multi-genre, reading series Gumbo Fiction Salon in Chicago. You can find more of her musings on writing, social justice, politics, and feminism on Facebook @ Tina Jens. Be sure to drop her a PM and tell her you saw her Black Gate blog.