1. Makoto
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    Makoto New Member

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    Does anyone use a character profile sheet?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Makoto, May 12, 2010.

    When planning out your characters, do you use character sheets, like the one below (which is the one I use)? The personality section is further developed, by the way, I don't stop with just those categories, I go into how they react to situations they encounter throughout the story, or on a day to day basis, etc... Depending on the storyline, I will add/edit/delete certain categories.

    Name:
    Name Meaning:
    Nickname:
    Age:
    Birthday:

    Eyes:
    Hair:
    Skin:
    Height:
    Weight:
    Build:

    Blood Type:
    Sun Sign:
    Gemstone:
    Likes:
    Dislikes:
    Strongest Subject:
    Weakest Subject:
    Strong Points:
    Has Trouble With:
    Dream:


    Personality:
    Fears:
    Religion:
    Favorite Color:
    Favorite Food:
    Favorite Activity:
    Least Favorite Color:
    Least Favorite Food:
    Least Favorite Activity:


    History:
    Childhood-Teen Years:
    Adult-Present:
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sigh. There are MANY threads on this question. You might want to take a look around and read them.

    Personally, I think they are a terrible idea that leads to two-dimensional characters.
     
  3. Makoto
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    Makoto New Member

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    I'm sorry, I didn't see any?
     
  4. Dr. Doctor
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    Dr. Doctor Contributing Member

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    I never saw the point. Maybe for RPGs or something it's OK, but for a story, why would you even need to know all that stuff to write about a character? The plot does not usually call for that much information about a person, and when it is needed, it can be supplied almost instantly - there are no limits or boundaries.

    Character sheets are a waste of time. Just write and let the characters come to life by themselves.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    No. Never.

    These things are an utter waste of time, in my opinion. Sorry if that sounds harsh to those who swear by them, but you couldn't pay me to use one.

    These things remove attention away from the story itself and place the weight on personas. It's like a movie where a "famous" actor is showboating, "It's me! look at me! Come and drop your eight bucks to see me!"

    .......and the story?
     
  6. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    I personally think "discovering" who your character is by writing them into the story is the best way as it feels like a natural (at least to me in my short time writing) way to develop the character, adjusting and changing his skills, personality as you write the story.

    Leave the character sheets in RPG-land, where they belong.
     
  7. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    Personally, no. Except maybe to cover aspects of my character I haven't considered (bday, ect), but not for anything important, no. I've always figured the relevant stuff out in my head, in relation to the story and context.

    Character profile sheets are good for qualifying parts of a character in a shallow format that is more easily digestable to some ppl, but for meaningful character development I'd have to agree with Cog and the like, insofar as sheets being a detriment if you're overtly relying on them.

    But, I mean, yeah, if you're just describing ur MCs in a whimsically inconsequential manner, go for it love. Why not? Just don't get attached to your character's caricaturization. Characters are maleable and adaptable, just like real life. You wouldn't relegate your best friend's traits to a character sheet, would you? Or rather, if you did, it would obviously be a feable shadow of the full content of your friend's personality. Something like that.

    Just don't take it too seriously I guess, but it doesn't necessarily sound like you do.
     
  8. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Never needed it.

    May be good for developing some kind of an initial image of your MC in your mind specially when you are writing about somebody foreign to you (example: me writing about a guy in Louisiana) or, the guy is a total fantasy (superhero in another planet etc.).... but then, I have never written about anything I don't know.
     
  9. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think it hurts to have a profile sheet, especially if you have a lot of characters. I'm surprised by other people lambasting the idea here.

    The one thing I hate when I read a book is to notice the organic change of characters' personalities over the course of a book. I know experience can change people but usually people react to events/conflicts in ways that are informed by their life experiences and personalities. It strikes me as laziness when people don't want to create powerful characters with their own motivations and desires from the outset. How can you create a dynamic character if you set out to 'discover' who they are in the course of the writing? If I did this, I'd end up with pretty dull-as-dishwater characters. Characters exist as tools to move the plot along and create conflict don't they?

    I don't think you can 'let' great characters happen. They're carefully crafted.

    It's surely better to know what you want to achieve.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Your argument has nothing to do with whether or not a writer uses a character sheet. No one (except you) is arguing that a character should not be developed. The point being discussed is whether character sheets result in a stiff, flat character.

    Of course, a character who does not "organically change" over the course of a story is the definition of a flat character.
     
  11. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    Peerie, I'd brace yourself for a verbal beating if I were you.

    Not from me, though. This is going to be more of a "Santa doesn't exist" talk.

    If I'm reading this right - and I think I am - you're basically saying that a story - at it's very core - the part that reaches out and touches the audience on an emotional level - the part that people are expected to relate to their own experiences as human beings...

    is the plot.

    Hm.

    Try to avoid misunderstanding people when they say that characters are "revealed" throughout the story. This does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that a uninteresting character is entirely dependent on their uninteresting environment to come to life. Human beings are always changing as a result of events in their lifetime - that's just a fact - and it's rarely as simple as-

    "Oh, I'm a giant and I hate dogs."
    "I am a dog, and I will help you."
    "Oh. I like dogs now."


    There's a plot without any real characters. How exciting was that?

    "I am a bad guy and I am doing bad stuff."
    "I am a cop. Stop that."
    "Okay."


    I'm going to have to do what Cogito does and keep some template responses lying around because the number of times this has to be explained is staggering. The reason there's so much hate for the profile sheets is that it's not given to the reader when they pick up your book and never will be. I could write a 500,000 word essay on my character in a biography and then hand you a book about the guy - you'll have no idea who on earth I'm talking about or where all of these random skills, traits, relationships or character elements are coming from.

    You cannot - CANNOT - depend on a profile sheet to tell your story for you. Having one doesn't hurt because it allows you to keep track of who's where doing what, but it tempts you to take certain character elements for granted, turn what should be a passion into an obligation or get distracted by things that aren't relevant.

    "Sergeant Johnny Walker cowered beneath what was left of the rotten log as bullets sent flecks of mud and clumps of foliage into the air. The air around him sang a deadly hymn that he didn't really like the sound of because he was more of a Sinatra man like that time back home when he was dating his second girlfriend and she commented on how beautiful his blue eyes were and he got kind of uncomfortable because of his old-fashioned views associating the word "beautiful" with "feminine" which contributed to his poor performance in the bedroom eventually leading to them breaking up after an argument over dinner because he really wasn't fond of the way she cooked peas in the microwave instead of on the stove because that's just not authentic home cooking. And then he got shot in the head because he zoned out and I can't be bothered keeping this guy alive - he was going to die in the next chapter saving a baby anyway."

    I'd like you to point out where the writer got distracted and suddenly felt the urge to inject random details from the profile page because they wouldn't get another opportunity to crowbar it in later.

    You don't meet someone and instantly know everything about them - hell, most people in real life turn out to be vastly different to what they first appear to be. As the writer - the God, shall we say - your omniscience allows you to dictate exactly what changes are going to occur when and how, but never, EVER insult the reader by giving it to them on a plank of wood scrawled with crayon.

    "The big scary biker actually like kittens later on - MEGA PLOT TWIST"

    You're right when you say that characters are carefully crafted, but the reader never knows this from the onset and never will if you just link them to your character's facebook page.

    The community that post on writingforums.org are your audience, so when someone posts a profile page with details as unrelated or obligatory as their date of birth, eye colour and favourite pizza topping, here's what we do as a general rule:

    *glance over it*
    "Eh... they look interesting... I guess. I can't even remember what I was reading, I zoned out because none of this is being put into any kind of relevant context, it's just a bunch of info about someone I've never met nor cared about."


    I cannot stress how uninteresting it is to read a laundry list of character information without any driving force behind it. It's like trying to write an autobiography using bullet points with a 500 word limit - it tells us NOTHING. It really is like receiving an invite on facebook from some random without nothing but a profile picture and the list of their favourite things on their homepage. And unfortunately, pretty much everyone deals with random facebook friend requests in exactly the same way:

    Ignore
     
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  12. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well actually Cog, I'm not arguing that a character not be developed. What I'm arguing is that people shouldn't sell out on what they set out to achieve by making their characters do things that are 'out of character.'

    It doesn't hurt to be very clear about the motivations of characters at the outset, otherwise, why create them.

    Nope, that's not what I meant at all. Not getting the 'Santa doesn't exist' slant. Maybe I'm too old for that.

    "Do character sheets result in stiff, flat characters?" Talk about a rhetorical question!

    It's a tool, not part of the story. And if it's helpful, why beat people up about it. There's no set way of doing things.
     
  13. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    Edit posted.... pooooosteeeeeeed.

    My scones are awesome.
     
  14. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    I don’t use character sheets, but I am struggling to see the causal link between having a character sheet and producing a two dimensional character.

    There may be a correlation, but that does not mean that there is a causal link. It may simply be that people who use character sheets would have produced two dimensional characters anyway (perhaps because those who use such sheets are less confident in their ability).

    The only way to know for sure would be to carry out double-blind tests...
     
  15. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lol, Whiffet. I know lawyer speak when I see it. I agree with you though.

    There are a hell of a lot of assumptions flying around here.
     
  16. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    As a newbie writer the conclusion I draw from this discussion:

    Yes, it is okay to prepare a profile sheet of my MC. It'll give me an idea of who he/she is. But during the course of actually writing the story the actions/thoughts/reactions of my MC shouldn't be solely influence by the profile sheet to avoid turning my MC into a one-dimensional, stiff character.

    Example: A former loyal bodyguard to Saddam Hussain changed his identity after the war, and somehow became a US citizen. He is then recruited by a group who hatch plans to harm the US. He gets a chance to kill the President. Will he? won't he? Your profile sheet says he should, but won't it be much more interesting if he didn't because..........

    Everybody who agrees with me say 'AYE' :)
     
  17. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    As a newbie writer the conclusion I draw from this discussion:

    Yes, it is okay to prepare a profile sheet of my MC. It'll give me an idea of who he/she is. But during the course of actually writing the story the actions/thoughts/reactions of my MC shouldn't be solely influence by the profile sheet to avoid turning my MC into a one-dimensional, stiff character.

    Example: A former loyal bodyguard to Saddam Hussain changed his identity after the war, and somehow became a US citizen. He is then recruited by a group who hatch plans to harm the US. He gets a chance to kill the President. Will he? won't he? Your profile sheet says he should, but won't it be much more interesting if he didn't because..........

    Everybody who agrees with me say 'AYE' :)
     
  18. linden
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    linden Member

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    I think you're on the right track, Manav.

    There are far better ways to develop your characters than by using a profile sheet. That being said, I often use them only because I usually have 4 or 5 projects going and need to keep my facts straight. But I don't stick hard and fast to them, I use them for reference, not to decide how my character will react to a situation.

    And what do you mean Santa doesn't exist?!
     
  19. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Aye!!!!!!!!!!!!!
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I read about an experiment once that seems relevant to this discussion, though it may only seem relevant to me. :) I've forgotten the specific details, but the general idea was:

    - Make some event happen in front of multiple participants.
    - Have _some_ of the participants promptly write down what happened, while others don't.
    - Wait a while, long enough for memories to fade a bit.
    - Have all of the participants answer questions about what happened.

    The participants that wrote down what happened did significantly less well on the questions than the ones that didn't. The conclusion was that the process of writing down the event somehow reduced/impaired their memory of the event.

    There are any number of possible explanations for this phenomenon, but my view is that any event is a complex thing, and that simplifying it by writing it down impairs one's perception and memory of that complexity.

    I would use the same argument for character sheets - character is a complex thing, and simplifying it into a character sheet is likely to simplify it in the author's mind as well.

    Now, this probably doesn't apply to facts. Writing down birthplace, schooling, profession, parents' profession, the fact that the character is hypoglycemic, etc., seem harmless. For the main character(s) I would probably remember these, but I don't see any harm in writing them down.

    But I think that it's a mistake to write down character traits.

    An example: The _fact_ that, "Jane has never stolen anything, and has always been scrupulously careful to be honest in all of her dealings," is one thing.

    The character trait that, "Jane is honest to a fault and would never steal anything," is, to me, a simplifying assumption. What motivates the rule against stealing? What situations might challenge it? I'd bet that _Jane_, if you brought her to life, wouldn't be sure what she'd do in many situations until she got there, so how can the author just impose a flat rule determining what she'd do before the situation comes up?

    Now, you could just extend the character sheet for page after page after page after page, detailing the motivations for Jane's honesty and her likely reaction to various situations, and doing the same thing for every other personality trait imaginable, and discover all sorts of things about the character as you mentally walk them through all of these possible situations. But isn't that what the book is for?

    This is, of course, all my opinionating. I could be wrong, but that's my argument for saying that character sheets that include personality traits and behavior predictions, rather than pure facts, are likely to be a cause of flat characters, rather than just being correlated with them.

    ChickenFreak
     
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  21. rikithasta
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    rikithasta Member

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    I don't completely disagree with character profiles... to an extent. I keep notepad documents of things such as 'name' 'age' a few important traits. Sometimes it's a place to work out character backgrounds and the like.

    Some sort of format or structure would probably help me out when I'm looking back and trying to make sense of it.

    However, are things like blood type and gemstone very important? Or favorite food and color? Right now I'd tell you that my favorite food is Chinese take out, but next week if you asked, I would probably tell you chocolate. People are dynamic (though not necessarily as wishy-washy as me). I suppose if the mythology/ symbology behind it meant something to you it would be a little helpful. But will it really help you shape your characters?

    Occasionally I'll see plot centric character sheets on the internet. They're typically very short and have you write short stories of characters in situations. That's a very liberal definition of character sheet though. If I can find it, and if you're interested I'll PM you a link.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There is a big difference between character sheets and a blank piece of paper to collect significant details.

    The problem with character sheeys is the formulaic nature. Also, nearly all of them collect attributes at a moment in time, and also tend to try to boil down complex concepts into a few words.

    When you define something, you draw a line around it, thereby limiting it. Characterizing someone as cheerful and optimistic, for example, flattens the character, because you begin to resist the idea that he or she can become depressed or lethargic.
     
  23. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have read stories, usually mediocre ones admittedly, where most of the characters seem cast from the same stone. Maybe this is because the writer doesn't have a clear idea of what the character stands for. They may then revert back to a flat pro forma type person - perhaps even a flattened version of themselves. The acid test is when find yourself asking "why can't I envisage this character in my mind's eye?" It's usually because the characters seem to speak and act in roughly the same way.

    I've also been introduced to fictional characters who absolutely jump off the page, such is their intense characterisation. To me, they don't seem like characters that have been arrived at by a process of discovery during the writing process. I could be wrong. I'm just saying that in order for me personally to create a character worthy of holding a reader's attention, I must consider in reasonable depth his or her backstory. To do this, it would involve some notes to get the fundamentals of their character imprinted on my mind. This doesn't mean I'd want to write a 5,000 essay. Just some rough notes. So, just a thought for those of you who think profiling of characters is nonsense. It just means you arrange information differently or trust yourself to remember everything. It doesn't mean it's not beneficial or 'amateur' if someone else arranged information more visually. Let's face it, we're all told to carry a notebook of wonderful nuggets/ideas as we go about our daily lives. If our memories were such amazing tools we would retain every thought and idea, but we know that's not the case. Profiling is much the same.

    This also has a lot to do with definition. I would never have a character sheet which said 'favourite food - pizza.' That's obviously nonsense. A profile to me is just a collection of ideas about the characters' motivations/choices/past as is necessary to start a good story.

    Chickenfreak, you make an interesting point on making notes versus listening alone but I think that's more about recall/memory. Profiling a character is about creating something rather than recording. However, there is definitely something to be said for the brain's efficiency when it's doing two things at once. I read somewhere that lecturers who have Powerpoint 'slideshows' that they effectively read out, don't achieve the same uptake of knowledge. It's because the listeners have to listen and read at the same time. Even though the information is the same, the act of taking in the information twice reduces your ability to remember it. It's probably not relevant for our discussion but interesting nonetheless.
     
  24. hyperspace!
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    hyperspace! Member

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    I've only used one once, just to try it out, and it wasn't too bad. I didn't really think too hard about it - 'cause, y'know, the important stuff's supposed to develope on its own while you're writing - but I kinda liked the character I came up with.

    Unfortunately, I have no sense of plot, so I haven't been able to use him in a completed story yet. Oh well.

    If anything, filling out profiles is a good way to pass the time while you're in writers' block. It beats staring at an empty word doc. for two hours.
     
  25. Poecilia Wingei
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    Poecilia Wingei Member

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    I don't use character sheets to create characters, but I do like to use them as a kind of test to see how well I already know the characters that I've been mulling over.

    Too bad a lot of profile questions are uninteresting. Instead of just filling out "M" or "F" for example, I thought it would be more interesting to wonder how significant a difference it would have made had my character been "born" the opposite sex to what they were. Forget "fill in a physical description including build and hair color": think about if and why they take the time to renovate their wardrobe every season, and cut or style their hair; if they feel safe being called "ugly" or uncomfortable with proclamations of their attractiveness; if they're shy giants or bigger than their body gives them credit for... and how does this fit in with or advance the plot?

    That said, I've also found some of those boring standard questions surprisingly inspiring and helpful. Like "blood type". There's usually not much I can make of that, and it rarely comes in as a plot point, but at the time I had been wondering how to detail some medical drama. When I realized that someone my character cared for needed a blood transfusion and their types were incompatible, writing went a little more smoothly.

    I guess that, as with everything in writing, it's not what you work with, but how.
     

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