Think of the people in your life. You know their age groups, their personalities, their hopes, dreams, and fears.
The characters we read and see on TV are no different – at least, the good ones aren’t.
So, I’ve become obsessed with the show Shameless. It reminds me of my own life in a lot of ways. Growing up was tough and no one’s perfect. When I first read reviews on the show, one thing kept coming up:
The show’s timelines are totally bonkers.
It doesn’t just make things unclear, it violates its own timelines numerous times. I discovered this myself tonight. I’ve marathoned seasons 1 through 4 within the past month and Fiona Gallagher has gone from age 21 to age 27 to age 23. I mean, she really went from age 27 (it was on her prison data sheet) to age 23 (she said it) within a few episodes in season 4.
It bothered me.
I didn’t write character profiles for anyone in If I Let You Go.
Airlee, Edwin, River, and Sam are pretty clear-cut characters at the end of the day. They don’t have extensive backstories because their whole lives have been spent pretty much doing the same thing. Their goals are somewhat different and it's simple to keep track of those in my head.
Airlee wants her freedom (whatever that looks like); Edwin fights an internal war with himself over the ethics of the compound and wants to do the right thing; River wants the fighting to stop so everyone can decide how to function peacefully; and Sam just wants to appease his boss so everyone he leads can get fed and he can sleep at night. The dynamics of the compound are more complicated than the characters.
However, in a story where you have multiple characters who need backstories, who go through constant development, who need foundations to base all their choices on… You need a character profile.
A character profile consists of things like:
Age Place of birth/where they live What was their upbringing like? What do they do for a living? What DID they do for a living? What traumatic experiences have they gone through? Death, divorce, breakups, violent crimes, etc. What are their goals and passions? What are their fears?
These are just the basic questions. Remember, your characters aren’t like the people you meet in real life. Your readers/viewers can’t look them up on Facebook and lurk on them. If you don’t tell readers or show them what to believe, they won’t know.
I will almost certainly do character profiles for my next book. I’m not sure which story I want to tell next. I get my ideas from dreams, and I’m in a very active dream cycle in my life. I’ve currently got at least three ideas stewing and the characters are all quite unique.
Some writers go as far as to write diary entries from the perspective of each character. I think this is a waste of time. But what do I know?
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