Character development can be one of the most challenging aspects of writing fiction, especially for new and aspiring writers. Characters often need to not just be unique, but complex. Sometimes it is difficult to even know where to begin with your character. Who are they? Why do they do the things they do? What motivates them? These are the types of questions you should be asking.
Some writers turn to character development profiles as a tool to help in the character creation process. While some find character profiles helpful, character development profiles could cause more harm than benefit. This article intends to highlight the potential downsides of using character worksheets and to make suggestions on how to approach creating your character profile, should you choose to use one.
What is the purpose of a character development profile?
Character development worksheets and character profiles are considered by many to be a convenient shortcut to help you get started in your character development. Rather than viewing it as a shortcut, it should instead be viewed as a writing exercise or development tool. Character profiles are essentially character templates that lay the foundation of your development of your character. They can shape how you will view the character once you begin to incorporate them into your story. Most character worksheets allow you to enter the character information yourself, element by element, acting as a simple template. Unfortunately, too many people get caught up in the minute details of their characters in the character templates and don't focus enough on actually writing the story.
The main purpose of using a character profile is to help you develop your character. If you ever feel the character template is hindering your efforts, it likely is. The worksheet itself is not your character - you don't want to limit your character in that way, which is a risk you take if you use a character profile. The purpose of using a character profile should not be to highlight what they've done, do, look like, or what they prefer; rather, the purpose should be to aid in understanding who the character is. A useful character worksheet will help the creator get to know and further develop the character.
The disadvantages of using a character development profile
In the real world, people change, grow, and evolve. The same should be true of the characters within your story. This crucial point is often overlooked. The characters in your writing should be no different than characters in real life, but that they act under different environments and are on paper. Characters should be real, and real people change over time. You are a sum of your knowledge, personality, and your experiences - the same should be true of your characters. They should be dynamic and changing based upon their experiences (in most cases). Oh, and by the way, your character's experiences happen within the context of the story itself.
Characters should be dynamic, and templates limit your character by over-defining them or by focusing on the wrong elements. For this reason, many writers avoid character worksheets altogether. Most character profiles focus on appearances, history, and other elements that might be completely irrelevant, yet could hinder your character's development.
What's worse is that character templates can limit not only your written version of your character, but they can limit your imagination. If you've already decided all the details about your character in your mind, you may be reluctant or unable to change them or view your character in a different light, even when doing so might be best for the story. You may simply be unable to see it. Profiles create boundaries for your character. Without using a profile, details irrelevant to the present point in your story simply don't exist yet, but in your mind. This allows you to imagine and create elements of your character as needed, and likely with greater ease.
What to include and focus on in a character development worksheet
If you decide that using a character development profile is beneficial, try to re-imagine the concept of a character worksheet; focus less on description and minor details, and instead focus more on what makes your character who they are. On their character, if you will.
Many free character development worksheets focus too much on the character's physical description, history, and material likes and dislikes. These are exactly the type of elements that may limit your character, harm your writing, and waste your time. When seeking a character development worksheet, or - better yet - creating your own, you should focus on the aspects that will actually help you better understand and develop your character. Keep your goal in mind. The purpose of creating a character profile is to help form the foundation of your character so that you - the writer - understand who your character is and why he or she does the things they do, so that you can create them within the context of you writing.
Some of the most important elements to include in your character's profile are non-physical and non-trivial things. Too often writers focus on the appearance and unimportant facts about their characters. When considering what to include you the profile, ask yourself if it's important to specify at such an early stage, and consider if each element is relevant and worth exploring. Some topics to consider including are: their role in the story, their worldview, what motivates them (why do they do the things they do), what would change who they are, what are their strengths and weaknesses, what are they capable of, what is their character. By developing important immaterial aspects such as these, you can develop insight into who your character is, how they think, and why they do the things they do. Such understanding of your character will doubtlessly prove more beneficial than their height, family history, or hair color. Focus on the more dynamic character elements that will aid you in creating a mental persona of the character.
A few final thoughts on character profiles
Keep in mind that a character development worksheet is only meant to act as a starting point for you to develop your character - it's a creative tool and nothing more. The bulk of your character development should take place in your actual story where you character can change through the setting, events, and interaction with other characters.
Using a character development profile can be a useful tool to get started on developing your character when you're really struggling - if you do it right. However, before immediately beginning a character worksheet, ask yourself why you're struggling, and consider other possible solutions. It might even be best to simply treat such worksheets as an exercise, and then discard it.
Additionally, keep in mind that every writer is not the same; character worksheets may prove immensely beneficial for some and debilitating for others. Ultimately, the major disadvantage to character development profiles is the risk of limiting or over-defining your character. At the very least keep this in mind: characters can and should change, in essence should be like real people, and are defined through the story itself.