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How to Create a Character Profile: the Ultimate Guide (with Template)

Posted in: Perfecting your Craft on May 31, 2018 10 Comments 💬

Character Profile Template 1

Ask any great novelist and they’ll likely tell you that good writing starts with good characters. But sharp character development is also one of the toughest hills to climb, especially if you’ve struggled to think through those tried-and-true questions that keep you up at night:

  • Are my characters convincing?
  • Do my characters have depth?
  • How do I make sure my character has an arc?

If you’re having these doubts, you might want to turn to the age-old solution: a character profile. In this post, we take you through all the steps of creating a character profile requires — and give you a character template that you can use with any story you’re writing.

Why create a character profile?

What’s the point of filling out a character template? I never end up using all the information in my story, anyway! That’s true. In fact, you shouldn’t try to pack every character detail into your novel. Only use what's relevant to the actual story — otherwise you risk turning off readers with the dreaded "info dump."

But the author always needs to understand their characters like the back of their hands. In Creating Unforgettable Characters: A Practical Guide to Character Development, Linda Seger compares the depth of a character to an iceberg. The audience will only see a fraction (maybe 10%) of all that the writer knows about their character. But the remaining 90% is what makes characters actually feel well-drawn, flawed, and real — as though they could live outside of the book itself.

Those are the kinds of characters our character questionnaire is here to help you write.

PRO-TIP: If you're still in the beginning stages of building a character and need a name, this character name generator may come in handy.

So what makes a good character profile?

There are a lot of character questionnaires out there — some are good. Then there's the character template that asks you, “If your character was a color, what color would they be?”

Once you start answering those kinds of questions in a character template, you might be dealing with overkill. It won’t move the needle at all when it comes to character development.

A better character profile is one that actually helps you build a holistic picture of your character in the context of your story. With this in mind, we built a character profile worksheet in three parts. If you treat a person like an apple, they’re going to have three layers of depth: the “skin,” the “flesh,” and the “core.” (Otherwise known as their physical appearance, backstory, and psychology.) That’s how this character template is structured — and if you have a particular area that you’d like to hone, you can skip to it below. Otherwise, this questionnaire will start with the eagle eye’s view of your character. And if you'd like to download it nicely formatted for you already in a PDF format, feel free to do so below!

Enter your email address to download the Character Template & Worksheet!

You'll get it in your email inbox right afterward.

Ready? Let’s begin.

PART 1: The Outer Layer, or Physical Appearance
PART 2: The Flesh, or Backstory
PART 3: The Core, or Psychology

Part 1: The Outer Layer

To be able to identify a criminal, detectives build a painstakingly thorough file of said criminal’s physical characteristics.

That’s the goal of this section, which covers the “skin” of your character: everything from their outer appearance to the way that they speak. Think of it as a kind of offender profile — one that can help you spot your character in the middle of a crowded Times Square.

📖 THE BASICS

Name

Age

Place of birth

Current location

Nationality

Education

Occupation

Income


👀 PHYSICAL APPEARANCE

What's their:

  • eye color?
  • hair style?
  • build?

Do they have any distinguishing features (tattoos, scars, birthmarks)?

What's their preferred outfit?

Do they wear glasses? 👓

What accessories are ALWAYS associated with them (cane, pipe, necklace, etc.)? 🌂

What's their usual level of grooming?

  • Disheveled
  • Smart, very put together
  • Untidy but clean
  • Other?

Do they have any distinguishing “tics” and mannerisms?

What's their health like? Do they suffer from chronic illnesses? 🏥

Describe their handwriting (sloppy, neat, careful, unintelligible). ✍

How do they walk? 👣

  • Confident, powerful strides
  • Lazy stroll
  • Fast, walks at a clip
  • Distracted, eyes on the ground
  • Other?

💬 SPEECH AND COMMUNICATION

How do they talk (rapid, slow, measured, drawl, etc.)?

What's the style of their speech (elevated, educated, peppered with slang, etc.)?

Do they have an accent?

Posture:

  • Stiff, military
  • Slouching
  • Casual and relaxed
  • ‘Turtle,’ tired
  • Other?

Do they gesture?

  • Only when agitated or eager
  • Doesn’t gesture
  • Compulsive “hand-talker”
  • Controlled, only to make a point
  • Other? If so, explain:

How much eye contact that they like to make (direct, shifty, etc.)?

What's their preferred curse word?

What's their catchphrase?

Any speech impediments?

What are any distinguishing speech “tics”?

What's their laugh like? What do they tend to find funny?

Describe their smile?

How emotive are they? Do they wear their emotions on their sleeve? How easily can others to read them?

They have a resting _____ face.

  • Bitch 😒
  • Angel 😇
  • Neutral 😐
  • Other?

Part 2: The Flesh

Characters don’t exist in a vacuum — they’re a product of their environment.

This section in the character template dives a bit deeper into your character and covers their “flesh”: the people, circumstances, and formative influences that filled them out and made them who they are today. It’s the springboard to your character’s biography.

⏪ THE PAST

What's the name of their hometown? 🏡

What type of childhood did they have (sheltered, neglected, etc.)?

Describe their education? 🍏

Were they involved in organizations and clubs at school?

  • Sports ⚽
  • Debate 🗣
  • Gay / Straight Alliance
  • Model UN
  • Drama 🎭
  • Other? If so, explain:

At graduation, they were named Most Likely To ___________ in the yearbook. 🎓

Jobs (if applicable)? What would their résumé look like? 💼

What was their dream job as a child? Why?

Who were their role models growing up? Describe them. 👨‍👦

What's their greatest regret?

What were their hobbies growing up? ⛳

Favorite place to be as a child?

What's their earliest memory?

What's their saddest memory?

What's their happiest memory?

What's their clearest memory?

What are their skeletons in the closet? 💀

If they could change one thing from their past, what would it be? Why? ⏳

Describe the major turning points or “life beats” in childhood.

What are three adjectives to describe them as a child?

What advice would they give to their younger self?

List their criminal record. ⚖

Want to take your characters to the next level?

Sign up for this FREE character development course! Enter your email below and select 'Writing - Developing Characters Your Readers Will Love' in the drop-down menu.


👪 FAMILY

Father 👨

  • Age (if living)
  • Occupation
  • Briefly describe their relationship with your character

Mother 👩

  • Age (if living)
  • Occupation
  • Briefly describe their relationship with your character

Siblings👧

  • How many?
  • What are their names and ages?
  • Briefly describe their relationship(s) with your character

Children 👶(if applicable)

  • Age (if living)
  • Occupation
  • Briefly describe their relationship with your character

Extended family 👴

  • Grandparents
  • Uncles and aunts
  • Cousins
  • Other

What's their family's economic status? 💰

How often do they see their family in a year?


💜 EXTERNAL RELATIONSHIPS

Who are their closest friends? Describe them.

Who are their other significant friends? 👋

Enemies? Describe them. 😡

How are they perceived by:

  • strangers in the street?
  • acquaintances at a work function?
  • colleagues in the office?
  • authority figures?
  • friends in their friend circles?
  • children?
  • the opposite sex?
  • extended family?

What social media platforms are they on?

  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • Other? If so, explain.

How would they use their social media platforms?

How would they fill out an online dating profile for themselves? ✨

What’s their role in a group dynamic? 💡

  • Leader
  • Joker
  • Parent
  • Hype man
  • Mooch
  • Other? If so, explain.

Who do they depend on for:

  • practical advice?
  • mentoring
  • a wingman?
  • emotional support?
  • moral support?

How quickly do they respond to emails? 📨

What do they want from a relationship?

Who would be their ideal partner? 💖

Who is their significant other? Describe them. 💕

How many people would attend their funeral?


Part 3: The Core

We’ve come now to the “core”: who your character is deep down.

This section in the character profile worksheet covers the “heart” of your character. If a backstory shapes a dynamic character, this will define them. More importantly, it will help inform the two most important points leading up to your novel: the character’s story goal and story motivation.

💭 PSYCHOLOGY

What do they do on rainy days?

Are they:

  • Street-smart or book-smart
  • An optimist or pessimist
  • Introverted or Extroverted

What is their favorite sound? 🔊

Favorite place in the world? 🌎

What secrets do they keep? What are they most afraid of people finding out? 🔒

What do they want the most? 🔍

What's their biggest flaw?

What's their biggest strength?

What's their biggest fear?

What is their biggest accomplishment? 📈

What is their idea of perfect happiness?

What's their favorite quote? 👌

Do they want to be remembered? What for? ⌚

How do they approach:

  • power?
  • ambition?
  • love?
  • change?

What is the one object or possession that they would rescue from their burning home? 🔥

What (or who) bores them? 💤

What makes them angry? 💢

What do they look for in a person?

How strong is their moral compass? When, specifically, are they willing to compromise their morals?

List the last 10 books they read. 📚

Which fictional world would they most wish to visit?

If they didn’t have to sleep, what would they do with the extra time?

What are their pet peeves? ⚠

If they won the lottery, what would they do?

Describe the character’s bucket list at the ages of 15, 20, 30, and 40.

List the 10 songs that would occupy their All-Time Most Played playlist on Spotify. 🎵

What is the best compliment that someone ever paid them?

In an elevator, do they push the elevator button more than once? 🚪

What would they want their tombstone to say?


🔮 THE PRESENT AND FUTURE

What is their story goal? (answer in a single paragraph)

Story motivation (answer in a single paragraph)

In other words: what does your character want in the story? Why do they want it? Every other answer in the character template builds up to this. This is critical information to know because it’ll make up the unshakable foundation — and raison d'être — for your story. Whenever you feel like your story is straying off course, go straight back to your character’s story goal and motivation.

And if you lose physical sight of this character template, don’t sweat because we made it a portable resource for you.

The Ultimate Character Profile Template

This downloadable character profile template will come as a fillable PDF file. Simply save it on to your computer and start typing in the text boxes to start developing your character.

Character Profile 1.1

Enter your email address to download the Character Template & Worksheet!

You'll get it in your email inbox right afterward.

Additional resources

If you’re in an interrogatory mood and want even more questions outside of this character template, we’ve got your back. Here are some more famous tests with which to quiz your character — and a character questionnaire or two for your further perusal!

The Proust Questionnaire

What it is: A set of questions popularized by Marcel Proust that digs into an individual’s personality.

Some sample questions:

  1. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  2. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  3. On what occasion do you lie?

Arthur Aron’s Intimacy Test

What it is: A questionnaire of 36 questions that the New York Times in 2015 said would break down emotional barriers and accelerate intimacy between two strangers.

Some sample questions:

  1. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  2. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  3. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?

The Book of Questions

What it is: A series of questions by Gregory Stock that was initially published in 1987. (Note: you can find a PDF of 300+ questions here.)

Some sample questions:

  1. At a meal, your friends start belittling a common acquaintance. If you felt their criticisms were unjustified, would you defend the person?
  2. Are you able to separate sex from love?
  3. When you make a big sacrifice, do you tell people about it or keep it to yourself? What would you never willingly sacrifice? Your life? Your health? Your integrity? Your dreams?

Vault’s 101 Behavioral Questions

What it is: A set of 101 interview questions from career site, Vault.

Some sample questions:

  1. Where do you see yourself in ten years? Twenty years?
  2. Tell me about yourself in 30 seconds.
  3. Tell me about a time you had to break a promise. What was the situation and how did you handle it?

If you're looking to hone your characters even further, here are seven of the best character development exercises. Keep an open mind as you work through every question and you'll be on your way to creating well-drawn, interesting characters in no time at all.


Have you used a character profile or a character questionnaire to develop your characters before? Do you have any dependable character questions that our questionnaire lacks? Tell us in the comments below!

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Rachel Mendell

excellent! so much info - thank you.

Reedsy

Our pleasure, Rachel. Glad that it helped!

Diane

Wow! I tried to find such kind of list many times. Thank you so much! Creating character is always difficult for me. I imagine tutoriage character but it was not full. With this list Finally I will finish it.

Jon

Nice I was gonna make one myself but this is great since normally I obsess to the point of procrastination.

Gwendolyn Clark

I was never sent a copy to download

Martin Cavannagh

Hi Gwendolyn, could you drop us an email at service@reedy.com and we'll sort you out with a link 🙂

Sabrina Douglas

I have not received the PDF yet.

Martin Cavannagh

With Gmail, our emails often can be found in the Promotions folder. if it's not there, send us an email at service@reedsy.com and we'll sort you out 🙂

Tactical Weasel

I was never sent a copy to download either.

Ibidun

This is a developed list of questions for sure. Thank you!

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