There are many “Character Profile Templates” floating about and I will (eventually) add one of my own to the Free Printables section.
These can be useful but I must stress that you should not follow them too strictly as you progress with your writing.
They are good to start with, to get the “meat” of your characters down, but as your writing becomes more detailed you would be best to design your own character template. This way you will not end up with a lot of extra sections requiring information you don’t need.
I personally have two sets of Character Profiles. The first I made on MS Word, lots of categories a few pages per profile for the main characters with a LOT of detail.
The second is a “bare bones” spreadsheet. This covers the basics such as height, age, full name (yes even experienced writers can forget the spelling or forget the last name of a character especially when you are spanning several books in a series), eye, hair and skin colour, scars (if important) etc. This is for use when I’m writing on the computer and I need to confirm the eye colour of the current character etc. This saves digging out my binder for something so small a detail.
Try using these basic categories to begin with when designing a profile:
Physical – for their physical appearance, age, height, gender etc
Mental – their personality traits, fears, likes, virtues, vices, driving forces etc
Cultural – their origins, religion, social status, rank, culture, food & drink preferences etc
Family – living situation, family members names and small details (if they are needed)
Additional (for example)
Magical – powers, magical ranking, tribe / coven etc. (you don’t have to use magical, but use whatever is relevant)
For Physical the main information you should have is full name, gender, origin, age, physical description, personality. Then build from there. Break this down into Eyes / Hair / Skin / Scars or marks / Build / Height / Tattoos / Dress style etc. Having single word or short sentence answers are better than a whole paragraph on “description”. Think about how a cop would ask you to describe a suspect – clear facts, not long-winded prose.
For Mental – list a few personality traits and remember not all of your characters are going to be incredible. Some may be mundane or boring, have a few traits that are going to be useful to the novel. Is your character forgetful, inconsiderate, caring, generous, naïve? Make sure to add both good and bad qualities and remember some good ones can be bad and some bad ones can be good.
Example – a person can be too generous to the point they let their own family suffer while “giving” to others.
Cultural can help you define how your character reacts to situations, authorities, weather, omens, wealth, other people, animals etc. In this you can add transport method, social standing (for example are they royalty or peasants, high caste or low caste), if they have likes and dislikes don’t list a million and one. List the ones that are going to be useful such as “fear of heights” for the character that will have to travel over the mountains to get medicine. Or “likes ale” for the character who can’t seem to stay out of the tavern long enough to realise his wife is ill.
Don’t be afraid to give them no fears etc – not everyone knows what they are afraid of until they are faced with it. Maybe your warrior is completely brave until someone threatens to blind him – suddenly he is afraid of being that vulnerable and dependent on others.
Your character profiles should not really need to exceed 3/4 pages (even for a high level fantasy novel). 1 to 2 pages is more normal and easily achieved if you are concise with your details.
Unless it’s actually used in the novel keep away from things like exact weight (just describe their build), star signs are another pointless one (unless their culture swears by them), birth marks on their arse that are never to be seen, exactly how they drink their cocktail are all clutter to a writer.
Don’t use the same template for different stories. If you write one novel about Ancient Egypt and another about the Second World War you need to amend your template so that you are recording information that is relevant to that character to that novel and amend the “Additional” section.
If you do use the same template you are at risk of recording pointless information and missing something important.
Another idea I recommend for those people who are writing more than one story is colour coordination. Sometimes even the tidiest people can end up with notes all over the place (is very guilty of this!). Use markers, felt pens or coloured sticker dots and add them to the top corner of your profiles, scenes, notes etc. Use a specific colour on all corresponding works.
If we use the above example – All your notes, profiles etc for your Ancient Egypt story should have a blue circle in the top corner while all your Second World War notes should have a green dot. This makes it easier and quicker to separate notes and ideas at a glance. And believe me when you accidentally drop a file box of organised scenes all over your study floor you will be VERY thankful for those coloured dots!
Fantasy writers who build their own worlds can usually benefit from designing a map. Having a visual image of where your story is set helps, believe me. This is even more important if you write any form of quest/travelling story. It allows you to plot where your characters are going and what they are likely to pass through along the way.
You need to have an idea of what your world / land will look like and in which direction you are going in to reach certain places. This is where your research books might be useful. Research books such as ones on geography, atlases, topology and weather are good for map drawing.
It is recommended that new writers especially try not to overdo their fantasy world. It is best if the basic natural laws such as gravity and weather are the same as Earth. This way you are not creating a whole new set of natural laws. Not unless you like that kind of challenge.
Draw your map small scale on A4 paper first. Use a pencil and sketch out the land mass(es). From this start to plan your natural sites such as rivers, streams, seas, forests, lakes, mountains, canyons, craters, ravines, sink holes, islands etc.
Once you have these in you can plan your people places. Remember to use your research books now. This allows you to be more realistic eg: snow capped mountains aren’t found in the desert. Look at how the natural lay of the land is formed, did the earth shift forcing up a mountain? Did a war of magic split the ground and cause a canyon? If the mountain ranges cause precipitation you might want to make the town that lives at its base at risk from flash floods (re: the shadow effect).
Most maps are drawn from a birds-eye view. Don’t detail the trees or houses, draw them like they are on ordinance survey maps as symbols. Once you are happy with your map, colour and label it.
(NB: Coming soon – a more detailed tutorial for map creation)
Larger Than Life – If you are feeling adventurous and you have the space you can re-create your map in a larger scale. Break down the map into sections / lands etc and redraw each section on its own A4 piece of paper. Colour and label these and blu-tack them to a blank wall in position. You can even use coloured paper for rivers and forests rather than colouring them all by hand.
Distances – Again, something useful especially for travelling stories is to add distances to your map. For example say it’s twenty leagues from one village to another you can make sure when you are writing that part of the journey that you don’t state that “by the very next day the travellers arrived at second village” (unless they were in a jet!). All these ideas can help to keep your organised and accurate with your story.
Remember with distances that if you hit a ravine or quicksand, your characters would have to go around. Or if there is a bridge, is it strong enough to hold a person, a horse, a wagon? If not, this can affect distance again. What you are looking for is a well versed set of notes/maps so you are organised and ready when you come to writing.
Photos – One personal touch I like to add is photos. If I am out walking and I see a bridge or forest clearing, a river or expanse of scrub land that I think fits in my fantasy world I take a photo. These are then printed and stuck around the outside of the map with a piece of string leading from the section of the map the image connects to up to the photo. Again this adds another dimension to your map and helps when you come to describe such areas.
And do not think map making is only necessary for Fantasy Writers. If you write Sci-Fi (I consider this different to fantasy) then a map of your galaxy might be useful. If you are writing a historical drama set in this world, then try and get a map of the area from the time you are writing in! It all helps to organise your thoughts.
Always carry a note pad with you, in your pocket, in your bag, in the car, in different rooms of the house. Make notes and organise them while you write. Always add the date and the name of the novel/series the notes are for.
A little trick, if you find yourself without a notepad you can use your mobile phone. Almost everyone carries one of these. Text yourself the idea or type it and save it in your drafts folder. However make sure you transfer these notes to a notepad / computer soon before you end up accidentally deleting them or losing / damaging your phone.
SCENES / CHAPTERS
Some people know exactly what happens in each chapter and so they write chapter by chapter. Others (myself included) are better at writing individual scenes which are later worked into chapters. Personally I find that by writing individual scenes, it is easier for me to move sections around to fit them in. Whether you write chapters first or individual scenes I recommend giving them names. Make is something that covers what the scene/chapter is about.
Example: You write a scene about the parlour maid witnessing her master beat his son to death. He glances towards the door and sees a shadow. The maid panics and flees the home, taking few supplies and leaves by the back roads. Your title here could be: The Master Kills his Son or The Parlour Maid Witnesses Murder.
Do not explain the entire scene, just enough to remind you the main force of the scene is.
As you get further along with your work you can start adding numbers to groups of scenes marking out which scene would come first.
For example, if you have a set of scenes all happening at the mountain village you could write at the top of each scene: Mountain village – # 1 etc
Then number each scene according to its position. That way you will end up with sections of scenes all in order. Eventually when all your scenes/chapters are sorted they can be numbered correctly from start to finish.
My recommendation is that if you are writing your story, use Word (or the Mac equivalent). Don’t waste space, make your margins approx 2cms each side. This way when you print scenes you don’t have an extra 3 pages due to large margins. 2cms also gives you room to scribble notes if necessary.
Use your header and footer. In the header I always put the date the piece was written and any dates following where the scene / chapter has been amended. This way if you end up with duplicate copies of the same scene you can tell instantly which one is the current version.
Use your footer to include the chapter/scene/section title and the page number. Paper is a nightmare, it falls, flies, shuffles (all by itself I personally believe!) and so page 2 and 3 of a scene might go walk-about. If you find it you need to be able to identify it without having to read through everything.
I recommend writing in Arial, it’s clean and easy to read. Size 10 – 12 whichever you prefer. Anything written in headers and footers should be about size 8 so it doesn’t take up too much room and detract your attention.
When you send a novel to a publisher you need to double space. However until that happens either leave it as single spaced or change it to one and a half line space. (I prefer the latter as when I read through later to edit I find it easier to read and gives a little more space for notes).
At the end of a chapter / scene always add a word count.
First remember not to over-edit and (if you do) get out of the habit of editing everything you have just written. Wait until a scene / chapter is written in full. As a scene / chapter grows you may feel it is time to edit. Read through the work, highlight any double words (this is where you may have written “passed” two or three times within 2 sentences).
Add asterix in increasing numbers to any area that raises a question, query or note. At the bottom of the scene, add a title called NOTES and list your asterixes with the relevant queries etc.
Notes for Scene
* Would it be night time yet?
** This needs more description of the inn keeper
*** Middle section dialogue needs a re-write, doesn’t sound right.
When you go back to the scene (at a later date) you can refer to these scene specific notes and make the relevant changes. Once you have edited a scene, leave it and continue with more scenes/chapters. It is best to get the first draft done before you go back and do any further editing of writings you’ve already edited once. (Don’t get me wrong, I know how addictive editing can be and even now and I very guilty of re-editing at times. However all it does is slow my writing and make me doubt myself).
TIMELINES & DIARIES
Keeping a track of timelines and times of day in your stories can be difficult, more so if you have main plot with several subplots. If you have two groups of characters in different locations and your story flits between them you need to make sure the timeline is correct.
One suggestion is get a spare diary and use if for your characters. For example: Group A are marauders and raze a village in the north on Monday. Three days later Group B who were soldiers sent to protect the village arrive. So in your diary make on Monday when the village was razed and then Thursday mark the soldiers arrived. If the distance to the village is five days go backwards in the diary to Sunday and put Soldiers set out from home towards village.
Use the diary to mark times of day too. Was it night when the village was razed? Do the soldiers arrive at dawn? This way you have a nice accurate progression and you can check back to make sure you remember. If you start to write a long scene about the soldiers arriving at the village the diary will remind you they arrived at dawn so no “sweltering sun” descriptions need to be included.
Another method is using an A4 or A3 piece of paper. Give each of your characters or groups a colour and draw out a timeline. Use whatever references your novel uses (full moons, seasons, special days etc) and mark on the line when each specific group did what.
It is a good idea to have a spreadsheet or some other record showing the date you started your story/novel and the day you finished your 1st draft. This will (for those who want to be full time writers) help to give you an idea of how long it might take you. Remember a novelist has deadlines to keep to, publishers will often ask you how long it will take you to write your next novel. This way you are aware of your abilities and can strive to do better if necessary.
While much of this may seem like excessive work, it will help to organise your story. It will give you a foundation for developing your style and once you get into the habit of being more organised and automatically starting binders, profiles and making maps, then if you do become published it will all become second nature and you will be more efficient.
If you like this tutorial, please follow this blog, I’m posting new updates on Fridays at around 18:30 (BST) mostly 🙂
NB: The photo has been purchased from depositphotos.com