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Creating Realistic and Memorable Characters: Build a Character Profile in 4 Steps

Although you probably won't use all of it or show most of it, you should know everything about the characters that populate your story, even if it’s just the major players. Of course, you’re not expected to hold that much information in your head—that’s what a character profile is for.

As you’re planning your story, devote a substantial amount of time to building profiles that include a character’s biography, characteristics, and psychology. Those details may mostly stay hidden from your readers, but you would be able to imagine your characters’ behavior and decisions more clearly. The more effort you put into them, the more likely you are to make them realistic and memorable.

Step 1: Chart their personal history

No man is an island, so start off with the societal aspects of your character.

  • Name
  • Age
  • Place of birth
  • Current location
  • Nationality
  • Education
  • Occupation
  • Income
  • Family
  • What's their family's economic status?
  • Who are their friends?
  • Who are their enemies?
  • How are they involved in their community?
  • How much do they travel?
  • What’s their criminal record?
  • Father
  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Relationship with character

  • Children
  • Name/s
  • Age/s
  • Occupation/s
  • Relationship/s with character
  • Mother
  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Relationship with character

  • Grandparents
  • Uncles and aunts
  • Cousins
  • Other
  • Siblings
  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Relationship with character

Step 2: Develop their external characteristics

Your protagonist’s hair style may not be crucial to the plot, but it could affect their interactions with other people.

  • Skin color
  • Eye color
  • Hair color and style
  • Build
  • Distinguishing features (birthmarks, tattoos, scars, etc.)
  • Preferred outfit
  • Accessories (glasses, necklace, cane, etc.)
  • Usual level of grooming
  • Tics/mannerisms
  • Gesticulation
  • Handwriting
  • Gait
  • Speech
  • Eye contact
  • Posture
  • Handicaps/chronic illnesses

Step 3: Shape their personality

Time to get into your character’s head.

  • What type of childhood did they have?
  • What were their hobbies growing up?
  • Who were their role models growing up?
  • What's their earliest memory?
  • What's their happiest memory?
  • What's their saddest memory?
  • Are they introverted or extroverted?
  • What's their biggest strength?
  • What's their biggest flaw?
  • What’s their idea of happiness?
  • What's their biggest fear?
  • What’s their biggest accomplishment?
  • What's their greatest regret?
  • What secrets do they keep?

Step 4: Decide on their capacity for change

A dynamic character undergoes substantial change throughout the story, while a static character stays exactly the same. But contrary to what you’re usually taught about protagonists, the latter can be just as worthy of the limelight as the former. So ask yourself:

  • How much will a character change?
  • Do they change the world and/or people around them?
  • Do they change for the better or worse?
  • What inspires their change?

Whenever you think of follow-up questions and additional details, don’t hesitate to include those in your character profile. Feel free to go down rabbit-holes and discover more about a character.

After going through all these steps, you can proceed with other elements of your story like setting, plot, and more. You can also backtrack and tweak your protagonist’s goals, motivations, and conflicts according to the details that you now know about them. Take as much time as you need to make all the pieces of your story fit together.