How to Write a Novel

Step Seven: Full Character Profiles

Character Questionnaire

By now, you should already have a basic character profile for each of your main characters - comprising name, age, motivation, a single sentence summary of their role in the story, and a single paragraph summary of their role in the story. Also, you'll have completed an initial investigation into what makes each character tick, through the gameshow introductions.

Next, we're going to complete a detailed questionnaire about each major character. This is useful because it makes you look at them from all kinds of angles you might not have thought of - such as: what do they have in their pockets? Or, how do they treat people worse off than them? And these little insights and details may lead to interesting twists and layers to your plot.

Even if the answers you discover have no direct impact on your plot, the information will help round out the character in your mind, and when you write from their perspective - this will come out, whether you notice it or not.

It's best not to try to complete the questionnaires for all characters at the same time - do each character at least one day apart, otherwise you'll rush it and burn out.

Another reason it's good to spread these out over a little time, is to give you a chance to people-watch in between. With the questions fresh in your mind, observe all the people around you - family, friends, colleagues, strangers - watch them all, and see what inspiration you get to supply interesting answers to the questions.

Completing these questionnaires should also highlight if any of your characters are too similar. If you're finding yourself writing too many of the same or similar answers then your characters may not be unique enough, and it may be worth doing more to make them stand apart.

If you have two characters that both have wild hair, sharp blue eyes and a cocky, outgoing personality, you've got to ask yourself, do you really need both of them? Could their actions be merged, streamlined into one? (Compare the Trainspotting film and book for interesting examples of how this can be done). More importantly, if your characters are too similar, your readers might get confused between them, and that's a sure-fire way to ruin your carefully thought out plot.

The questions in the character questionnaire are deliberately vague, they are meant to be open to a bit of interpretation.

One final note - don't get too dogmatic about it - if you want to skip a question, skip it. It's not an exam.

Click here to view the Ultimate Character Questionnaire  (don’t try to complete all the questions nobody can live at that speed!).

Character Histories

Another way to add depth to your characters is to investigate their histories. Think about what their childhood was like, all the way from infancy, through being a toddler, a young child, an older child and teenager. What were they like as a young adult, and in their early twenties? Keep going up to their present age. Think about the environment they were brought up in, their character at different ages and key events that shaped them into becoming who they are today.

Task Seven: Complete Full character profiles for all of your major characters.

Click here to go to the next step or go back to the Novel Writing Roadmap overview.

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