1. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    Character Profiles: Simple and Easy

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by SilverWolf0101, Apr 19, 2010.

    I always hear people going on and on about character profiles and how they CAN'T find the perfect one. I'm not saying I have, but I have one that I use that's not really complicated, it's actually very simple and gets the job done for me. My profile? It is as follows:

    Name;
    Nickname;
    Age;
    Race;
    Gender;
    Hair;
    Eyes;
    Blood Type;
    Biography;
    Personality;
    Abilities; (Optional Category)
    Weapons; (Optional Category)
    Tattoos/Markings;
    Scars;
    Allergies;
    Other;

    It's not really the kind of profile to map out your entire character, but mostly a quick reference as to what your character is like. Basically I use it as a reference to find common info on my character instead of trying to flip through fifty thousand pages to try and find something that's impossible to find.

    Hope it helps a bit
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problem, as I see it, is not the content of a profile, but the existence of a profile template. It narrows your thinking.

    If you need to take notes about the character, then just do so. You don't need a template for that. Just write down factoids you create that you are likely to forget. Are you really likely to forget the character's hair color and style? Or gender?

    What use is blood type for most characters? What do you do with age if the story spans years or decades?

    Biography is the backstory trap. Stick to story, and let deatils from the character's past appear only when they are relevant to the story.

    Personally, I never have to search far through the manuscript to find details. I know where the details are, because I made a conscious decision where to expose the detail. And if it's the kind of datum I am likely to forget, then (and only then) I make a side note.
     
  3. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well said.
     
  4. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    Personally, the only way I see narrow thinking here is with you. Not everyone has picture perfect memory and can get all the details right, especially if they're working on more then one story. Plus, I know that I have a LOT of character ideas, so instead of running out random pages of a story to try and get this one character down, a character profile is the easiest way to jot them down for future reference.

    Also, I'm not saying people are going to forget details about their character, or that they NEED the profile to help them write the story. I'm just saying that there are times when a character profile can come in handy. And believe it or not, I have read a great number of stories where blood type are mentioned, it was just a side thought when I added it into my profile since I also have a story or two where I mention blood types.

    As for the biography, I don't see it as a backup trap, and yes I do unviel it in the story line, but here was my point for putting it in a profile in the first place: You need to know WHAT you want out of your character and how their past influences the story's flow. I'm not saying you have to fill out the biography and stick to it. No I'm saying just jot down a few things about they're past that'll help you remember why they're the way they are, and how it works in with the story.

    And Cog, about your last line, I don't see how ANYONE can perfectly remember where they stated something in a story like you so say you do. Even the greatest writers can't accomplish that, so I honestly don't see how you can claim to do it.

    As for the notes, a character profile is a way to organize my notes about characters, just because it doesn't work for you doesn't mean it won't work for others. Not everyone is the same, therefore they need they're own methods of doing things and taking notes. Just because you don't agree with it doesn't mean you can lable it as wrong. That's narrow thinking.




    Also I apologize for being snippy and having a bad attitude in this post(as it appears I do) but I was at the end of a very thin tollerance and ended up letting more than just Cogito have a piece of my mind. I apologize.
     
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  5. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    The problem, though, my binary silverwolf friend, is that dependence on something like a character profile can lead to creating a two-dimensional character by depending too much on a two-dimensional profile. And, while there is nothing wrong with making notes on your character at the outset, that, too, can lead to relying too much on those notes instead of letting your characters develop naturally.
    When you meet someone new, you don't know everything about them. At the outset, you may discover a few things about them but, you only really get to know that person through long-term association. The same holds true for your characters. You gradually learn more and more about him/her the more you write. And you may find some of those qualities you have delineated for your character just don't work with how s/he is filling out.
    If I find myself having questions about a character, I will go back and read more about him in my manuscript but, not so much reading about how old he is or whether his parents are alive or dead or what his favorite pasttimes are. Instead I learn about him through how he has responded to situations presented to him. That can tell more about him than all the artificially created profile studies combined ... and that's the character you want to get to know. Sometimes it is important to know at the outset that he has a tattoo of the Blessed Virgin on his neck. Maybe you don't even realize it yourself until four chapters into the story.
    Profiling can become a trap and if you become too dependent on profiling, it can handicap your story. If profiling works for you, do it. But don't let yourself get so wrapped up in your character's profile that you fail to let him grow.
     
  6. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I think what Cogito means is that if you fill out one of these personality and background checklists, you may start to feel like that's the way your character HAS to be. You might close yourself off to possible improvements, disregarding them simply because they aren't part of the original plan.

    What's more, it's always better to get to know your characters through experience. Write about them, don't just fill out paperwork. If you write scenes with your characters, you will know them infinitely better than you would by making note of every little detail. Plus, it allows you to experiment. See which personality quirks work, which physical characteristics are just too much, etc. Do this enough, and you're not likely to forget very much of it so easily.

    I could tell you right now that I have a laid back, highly sarcastic personality. But what does that really say about me? It tells you absolutely nothing about who I am. I could also tell you that I was born in the southern US, raised in the North, and matured in the South. But again, what do you get from that? How much better can you understand me if I say that my childhood best friend abandoned me after elementary school? You can't. Because you have no idea how I would react to outside influences, or what effect living in two very different places had on me. I say I'm sarcastic, so you might picture me as a loudmouth who has some sort of wit to spew on everything I hear. But that's not true. Why? Well, you wouldn't understand that unless you got to know me. Some things are impossible to see on a personality sheet. Such as who the person being described really is.

    A profile may be the easiest way to get little fun facts straight, but it's rather like comparing fast food to freshly grown fruit. One is quick and easy, but a poor thing to depend upon and ultimately not fulfilling; the other takes effort and patience, but is much better for you in the long term.

    And I must second what thewordsmith said. If this is what works for you, then do it. Just don't put too much stock in it. Eventually, you'll discover that profiling is not the perfect tool. There is no such thing.
     
  7. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    See, when I read these I just don't get it. The character profile tells me arbitrary things like blood type but nothing about their biggest fear. That is something that would interest me.
     
  8. TeabagSalad
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    TeabagSalad Member

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    When I first started writing I used to use a similar thing, and to an extent I still do.

    When I am forming a character idea I fill out a basic description much like the one you posted. However then I get an envelope and put the description in there. I then use the envelope to add things to help with my character. It can be anything that helps me with the description of the character: Pictures of people that look like the character, additional notes, articles that relate in some way to the character, small items that he/she may own.

    If I am going to use a character in a chapter then I will get the envelope out and use its contents to remind me of the details of the character and help me to get into their head.

    A basic description card is a good place to start though - I just find I need more to help with the development of the character.
     
  9. black-radish
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    black-radish Senior Member

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    Haha 'blood type'.. I never thought about that for my characters!

    If you feel like you need a character template to have a general idea of characters, then use it! If it works for you.. certainly for less important characters, I don't really see the problem in that.

    And with your main characters, you probally already know loads of more things about them, each time you think up something about their personality, simply add it to their character sheet.

    I personally don't use character sheets at all, but it can be confusing at times when I have a minor character and his personality won't be really consistent or specific enough.

    I guess we all have our own ways to write. :)
     
  10. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    "Characters are like watermelons: Big, round, full and juicy. If you want, you can cut them into a cube and fit them into a box. But if you grow a watermelon inside a box so that it becomes a cube, it will never achieve its full roundness."

    I have a question: Are you writing for others or for yourself?

    Just keep in mind that if you ever want other people to read your writing, it's not as if you're going to hand out a copy of your character sheet for everyone to read before they pick up the finished work. Audiences shouldn't have to look up a given character's mybookfacespaceninemsnyahoo because all of the details should be contained within the story.

    By all means, if you have problems remembering certain bits and pieces keep a record on the side, but don't - DON'T, for God's sake - let it dictate the development of your characters. The whole idea of an immersive story is that characters change over time in ways that cannot be recorded with any degree of reliability in a manila folder.

    These things get posted on this forum weekly and the response is generally the same:

    Characters are not biscuits, so stop trying to cookie-cut them.
     
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  11. writing_fandom_nerd
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    writing_fandom_nerd New Member

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    I love character profiles. It makes quick, easy reference to all the stuff I forget. I'm trying out Scrivener, and I'd like to build these easily edit-able profiles to work on my Camp NaNoWriMo submissions this year (Camp is twice now). I don't depend to much on them in the sense of describing my characters. But I definitely rely on them for remembering the important information needed to keep the story in check. My memory is scatterbrained and eccentric, not to mention "choosy." A profile is a great thing to have, especially in cases like mine.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I once read about (and probably mentioned here in a similar context) a study where some silly dramatic scene was played out in front of the study subjects. Some subjects were asked to write a description of what they saw. Some were not. All were asked, a few days later, to describe the scene.

    The ones who wrote down a description of the scene remembered less.

    To me, that says that simplifying an idea in words is not necessarily harmless - it may strip information from the idea. So I'm not going to put words to a summary of a character - I'm going to discover that character in detailed action, as I actually write scenes.
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Blood type? :confused:

    I appreciate that you wanted to share your profile.
     
  14. sunwave
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    sunwave Member

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    It's fun that so many people manage to comment on "blood type". The things I find funny are "Biography" and "other". I mean, biography is basically a character sheet the size of a book. It tells (nearly) everything about a character. Their past experiences, things they learned, things they did, and sometimes why or how. It tells how pupular they are, how capable they are and sometimes how well-known or how happy in life. I don't think this is a good point in a character sheet. Second of all: "Other" is really undefined, isn't it? There are a ton of things that can be described here. As someone noted: What are they afraid of? What do they pretend to be afraid of (and why)? What is their hometown? How many family members does s/he have? Is s/he shy? Is s/he good at keeping secrets?

    What I do is the following: I make a basic character sheet for the character's looks since I'll need those for nearly all my characters (I don't remember when or where I put character descriptions, since they're usually all over the place, scattered in dialogue or in events). I do not fill in all the categories, just the parts that are important for that character.

    Then, when imporant (background)information about a characters comes up, I add it to the profile. "Important" means things like their fears, their likes and dislikes, their hometown or their behaviour in certain circumstances. If needed, I sometimes add the brothers/sisters of characters too, but those are not really needed (I assume you KNOW THOSE).

    In the end the character sheet turns out different for every character. It is basically an organized collection of notes, with a lot of notes being " " (= blank) in the appearance sections.
     
  15. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    The problem that a lot of people have about letting their character develop as they write, is that you can end up with unevenly developed characters. So you're writing, writing, writing. You get to a chapter around mid-way through the story and you decide "This whole scene would work out better if my character has lost someone important to them at some point in their life." However, at no point, while recounting various family members and friends and such through the beginning of the story did they mention this exceedingly important person in their life. You now have to go through and edit the story to include information on this newly developed character.

    Now, I'm not saying that having a character Biography sheet will necessarily prevent this; I agree that the best way to come up with all of the details of your character is through writing out the story and letting those details come out naturally. But it can help with getting some of the more obscure background details out there before you get started.

    In my opinion, Character Sheets work best when they're filled out in correlation with the writing of a story. As idea occur to you, you write them down, and you have room to evaluate and explore the idea outside of the novel. Somewhere that you can start just ranting on and on about it and get all of the details out and then go back into the story and say "Okay, I know this entire event, now. These are the parts that the reader needs to know."

    Personally, I have a far more in-depth bio sheet that I use than the one listed above. It works for me. It allows me to flesh out my characters and get to know them before I even write the first word of a story. And no, it doesn't, in my case, make me feel the need to stick strictly to what I've written. It gives me a guideline for what I want to do with the character, and if I change information in the story, I simply edit the sheet to fit my needs. But when I'm writing out the details, it leads me to think.

    And, on a few other notes... "Blood type," for me, is a fun fact. Something that (among other things that I have on my sheet) I can figure out for myself and think about that I can just throw out in the story if I want to. I like knowing intimate little details like that; I like having these fun facts like "Character has scar on left knee from biking accident as child," or "Character is allergic to shellfish," or "Character hates chocolate; they learned the trait from their grandmother, who was allergic," which then leads to a whole explanation about why grandma had some an influence on the character. Knowing these things makes me feel closer to my characters and makes things feel homey and fun.

    And as far as Biography - most of the time, when doing bio sheets, these are only exceptionally important details to the story. "Biography" isn't really the best word to describe what it is, granted. Perhaps "Brief Summary of Past Events," would be a better term, but it's a bit of a mouthful, isn't it? Or at least, that's in my use of the term.

    But, no, making out Character Sheets isn't something that everyone should do. And I don't think that SilverWing was suggesting that everyone here attempt to take it up. She's simply sharing her writing process with us all.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That is far more likely to be a problem if you have tried to predefined your character, and in doing so, over-constrained the character.

    It's unlikely you will need to go back and edit multiple places to retrofit "this exceedingly important person in their life," unless you have been busily infodumping.
     
  17. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I don't think that determining facts before hand would cause you to not know about something that you decide to add halfway through.


    Edit
    I'd like to clarify what I mean when I say that I have a Character Sheet. I don't have ten or eleven topics that divvy up what my character looks like and how they act. I have a very large, very in-depth sheet that I don't fill out until I know what my character is like - as I said in my last post, I fill out my character sheet in conjunction with the writing of the story, not before. I have it divided into different categories, including basic information (shoot me, but I can't always remember characters' birthdays), history, and "fun facts." I don't just go through and make these up and hope that my character follows what I originally plan after I've gotten it all written out. And I certainly don't do tiny notes about each little thing. I wait until something about my character's past makes itself clear to me, and then I start to delve deeper and deeper into it. I do a third person narration, essentially, of my characters past, though, unless they're absolutely necessary to me, I don't go into conversations or descriptions of characters. I explain the thing that happened to my character that's important to the story, and I continue on until I find myself digging for more information, at which point I stop, and continue with the writing of my book until more information comes to me "naturally," rather than me creating them.

    As for the fun facts, yes, I do have a list of things. What's their favorite color? Do they have any scars? Are they allergic to anything? Do they like music? If so, what kind? And if any of these things are crucial to the story and I know them beforehand, I write them down. Other little facts, if they come up, I'll fill them in.

    The thing about a character sheet is that it's not necessarily a "mandatory, to-do-for-every-character-in-full" sort of situation. It's a list of facts that you may or may not know, and that you may or may not fill out as you write the story. That's not the point of it. The point is to give you a place that allows you to think. A place where I can write that my character has a strong disrespect for men, because I knew that long before I started writing the book, and where I can start writing, and writing, and writing, and delve deeper and deeper into that fact. Into what happened in her past that lead to that disrespect, and get the details out on paper (or on the computer screen). Because, as I'm writing, maybe it will change from what I'd originally planned in my head. But it allows me to work that detail and make sure it's clear for me. So that, when I get back to writing the story, I know what I'm talking about. I know the facts, and I know how much of her past and what happened in it the reader needs to know in order to understand that disrespect.

    So, yes, I use character bio sheets. No, I'm not going to push that bio sheet onto anyone else, because I know that it's something that I do that works for me. It gives me an organized form through which I can scroll and write exactly what I've been thinking and save it for later, so that I don't have to go sorting through a million notes and files later on to find the short scene I wrote about my character's abusive employer. So that I have somewhere other than my actual novel to delve into my character's past and let her tell me her past, and so that I don't have to delete half of it out of the story later, because I included too much.
     
  18. tinylittlepixie
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    tinylittlepixie Member

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    Rather than a list of attributes, what I tend to do is write out a quick few notes on how characters react in situations, such as when they're anxious, scared, excited. I find this way helped me to piece together the way their relationships will connect.

    I think if you go for having a list of attributes, it kind of lends itself to just splurging it down onto the page whenever a new character comes into play, which is probably best avoided. Release the information about a character slowly and where it's relevant. For example, if a character's height is important for establishing the context of him being physically imposing, describe it. If it's not, don't.
     
  19. Fantasy Lover
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    Fantasy Lover New Member

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    This is a very interesting topic for me as I'm having a difficult time at the moment creating my character profiles.
    Having read everybody's replies, I had been thinking that maybe for me it would be better to just write and hopefully my characters will come together.
    I think as long as you get a general feel for a character to be a certain way, bits and pieces will come together in developing each character, and when you finish writing your piece, then perhaps writing them down, then at least you have a guide for future reference, you can't go wrong.
    I hope I'm making sense.
     
  20. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Absolutely true.

    The thing with character sheets is that they're often times misused. The point is not to plan out your character and get down all of their facts before you begin writing the novel; it's to give you a place to think and to give you different details you may want to consider. It breaks down general categories (such as character history) into smaller categories that allows you to break them up in your mind into smaller categories. As I've said in this thread: a character sheet, if you choose to use one (which not everyone should do; it's not helpful for everyone) should be filled out as you're writing the novel, not before. It's not a place to memorize or make up details. It's a place to break them down and explore them in their most basic forms after you've discovered a basic fact.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The other major problem with character profiles is that they are static. Good characters, like real people, change, adapt, and rvolve over time. It's very difficult to make a character sheet reflect the character who is not frozen in time.

    All I need to know about my character is in my thoughts and in my manuscript.
     
  22. murasaki_sama
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    murasaki_sama Senior Member

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    I use character profiles about half the time, and I must say, I prefer to use them for stories with a lot of characters. One, it is a great way to keep track of little details. And two, it is good way to get the characters straight in my head before I start writing. Of course, I don't always fill out the profiles completely before I start; sometimes I fill in name, age, gender and maybe occupation or role in the story, and then start writing. Other times I might add a few minor bio details and some personality outlines.


    I think its funny you said that. Personally, I see character profile templates/skeletons/whatever as being like a list of ingredients. You gather a few ingredients to give you an idea of the character you are going to create. Then you add ingredients to taste, and modify accordingly throughout the story, and eventually you have a finished character - and a finished recipe for that character. Whats wrong with that?

    People write plots, and plan out story points way in advance - and yet they don't always hold to that plan religiously. Why should using a character template be any different? Consistency in a character is as important as change - not all stories involve character change, actually. But a character whose life and personality are constantly changes, who has a dozen inconsistencies in their description, what kind of character is that? A character template helps to pull the vague character idea out of the air and give it a rough form, one that will be further refined in the story itself. But, again personally, if I start with just a vague character idea, I can't be consistent with small details - like what weapons my character uses, or what my character's family is like - no family, large family? Siblings? I need to know that.

    Again, I don't always fill out the entire profile at once. Sometimes I fill in just bits and pieces, here and there. So I know the character has three siblings - I don't know their gender, or names or ages. Then again, maybe I figure out their ages as I'm writing. So I jump to my profile, (when I'm done with my thought in the story, of course, I don't stop writing midthought), toss that in, and then return to my writing.


    Character profiles don't work for everyone, and they don't have to. Some people find it easier to be creative when there is a structure supporting them; other people thrive on pure thought, with little or no need for notes or plans. Telling one person their style of writing is narrow or limited because it doesn't work for you is pure egocentrism, not to mention rude. I say that people should be encouraged to experiment with different styles, systems and methods of writing - including whether or not to use a character template, and how to go about filling it out.
     
  23. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    A character profile is a good start to begin the basic for your characters. Then as you write your story, there will be times when you will end up making changes to your characters, but it won't effect your basic template. You might use it for some other stories.
     
  24. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Yes, character sheets usually only reflect what a character is like at the beginning of a novel. Or what they were before the novel even started. Or how they were before a certain point in the story. But getting character traits straight before (or during the beginning of) writing a novel does not mean that, from that point on, you can no longer change, fix, or develop a character throughout the course of a novel. Just because someone writers a basic outline to a novel doesn't mean they have to stick to that throughout the entire series; so why are character sheets any different?

    Writing a character sheet doesn't kill my creativity and will to change throughout the novel. As I've said, it just gives me a very clear place to explore facts about my character.
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I can't imagine that a character sheet can give you a better idea of the current state of a character than simply writing about him or her. To me, it seems a colossal waste of time. But to each his own.
     

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