This is the list I use to jog my creativity when I'm creating
characters and to help me keep track of decisions made about my
characters as I write.
Each character starts off with her or his own list, but I don't "fill out" every item in the profile for each character. Rather, I read through the items and respond only to those items that seem to jump out at me (i.e., they feel important to the story I'm trying to tell). Then I start writing. As the character's personality unfolds in my writing, I return to her or his list and fill in those personality traits I've uncovered.
You can certainly fill out a complete profile for each character before you start writing about them--if that feels right for you; however, if you're like me, you may find that too constraining. Experiment with this list and find out what works best for you. Perhaps only a subset of these items will do so. If that's the case, work up your own outline which spins off this one. Perhaps this list or a spin off won't work for you at all. That's okay--any way you look at it, you'll have found what works best for you.
What's your character's name? Nickname(s)?
How old is s/he?
Attitude toward management? Attitude toward Unions?
Attitude toward the various jobs s/he's held?
Reaction to his/her military experience?
Any traumatic incidents while in the service?
Character's general intelligence level?
What is the character most proud of?
What events caused this character to be ashamed or feel regretful?
What opportunities have been missed?
What does the character most regret?
What were/are they like? Abusive? Supportive? Alcoholic?
If married or divorced--
To whom is the character married to?
Why did the character marry the spouse?
How good's the relationship with the spouse and the kids?
If separated, why?
If divorced, under what terms?
How many affairs or marriages has the main character had?
When and how did s/he discover sex?
If single, is there a significant other?
Height? Weight? Hair Color? Physical frame/body type?
Skin tone? Waist? Hair texture? Feet?
Ears? Hands/fingers? Hair length? Legs?
Tail? Nose? Chin? Cheeks?
Beard? Mustache? Arms? Musculature?
Eyes? Eye Color? Eye brows? Stomach?
Butt? Nose? Skin? Movement?
Face: Gaunt? Lean? Puffy? Square? Rectangular? Oval? Expressionless? Stolid?
Body: Fat? Bloated? Thin? Bony? Frail? Muscular? Stocky?
Demeanor: Militarily Erect? Droopy? Leads with the stomach or breast?
Movement: Clumsy? Graceful? Stiff? Leisurely? Smooth? Brisk?
Walk: Military? Brisk? Saunter? Hip-swaying? Leisurely? Graceful? Clumsy?
Complexion: Sallow? Pale? Ruddy? Blotchy? Pockmarked? Pimply? Glowing?
Gestures: Animated? None? Big & sweeping? Small & economical?
Any physical deformities/weaknesses/handicaps?
Style of Dress/Favorite Clothing/Jewelry Typically Worn?
How does the character see the future?
What makes life worthwhile for the character?
What does the character see as worth dying for?
What does the character most hate?
What does the character try to avoid?
What is the character most embarrassed by?
What is the character most fixated on?
Any chemical substance use/abuse?
How does the character handle change?
Can the character easily empathize with others?
Does the character experience severe mood swings?
How does the character see his/herself?
What kind of a person would the character want to be?
How far away is s/he from achieving this ideal?
What strengths does the character think s/he has?
What weaknesses does the character think s/he has?
Current driving motivations? Greed? Power? Love? Revenge? Money? Material Possessions? Winning? Territory? Lust? Hatred? Freedom? Self-respect? Respect from others? Curiosity? Life/survival?
What's the character's favorite fantasy?
Metaprograms (Thank you, Tony Robbins):
How does the character know when he's doing a good job? Must the feedback come from outside of him/herself? Or does he or she just know?
Is the character's primary mode of learning seeing, hearing or feeling? What's his/her second strongest mode?
Sort by self or others?
Does the character look at things from the perspective of what's in it for him/her? Or more from the what's in it for themselves and others?
Moving toward or away?
What does character want or what doesn't the character want?
Matcher or mismatcher?
Does your character respond to the world by trying to find similarities? Or dissimilarities?
What does it take to convince your character of something?
How does the character decide something is true? Does he/she have to see it happen? Does the character have to hear others say it's true? Does he/she have to be involved with it directly to believe? Does he or she have to read it in print?
How often does this truth have to be demonstrated? Only once? Two or more times? Over a period of time? Consistently?
Motivated by possibility or necessity?
Does the character tend to do things only when he or she must? Or is he or she motivated by he or she wants to do, seeking out options, experiences, choices, paths?
Working style? Independent? Cooperative? Proximity?
Is the character only happy when working independently? Does the character function better as part of a group? Or does the character prefer to work with people while maintaining sole responsibility for a task?
What does the character dream about?
Is the character typically a leader or a follower?
What kind of public face does the character display normally?
How does the character show affection/love?
How does the character show handle grief? Can the character cry?
How does the character handle pain?
Is the character self-effacing?
Does the character apologize frequently?
Does the character have a temper? How is it displayed: actively or passive- aggressively?
Can the character keep a secret?
Would the character drop everything and help a friend in need?
Is the character always there for a friend in need?
Does the character "crutch" on other people?
Does the character make loans to friends?
Does the character let everyone know it?
Some people but not others?
Does the character like to be the center of attention all of the time?
Does the character tell friends what's wrong with them?
When a person is telling a story, does the character always try to outdo that person with one of his or her own?
Does the character have a clique of friends s/he associates with to the exclusion of others?
Is it easy for character to find good things about others?
Does the character promise to do things and then forget?
What role does humor play in the character's life?
What kind of energy level does this person typically display?
Describe the character's sense of humor.
Character's general intelligence level?
Chews gum? Smoke? Cigar, cigarette, or pipe? Drugs?
Nervous twitch? Plays with mustache? Twirls hair?
Twiddles fingers? Plays with beard? Doesn't walk under ladders?
Doodles? Compulsive organizer? File-pile artist? Favorite jargonese?
Sucks on Lifesavers? Drinks alcohol? Drinks coffee?
Favorite candy? Morning ritual? Nighttime ritual?
Drinks soda pop? Reads before bed? Sleeps on bus?
Reads on bus? Gig line always straight? Military/business haircut?
Whistles? Plays music to think or calm down? Picks nose?
Pulls at ear? Holds chin in hand when listening? Oscillating leg?
Moistens lips? Chronic U-know-itis or equivalent? Pushes glasses up on nose?
Hums? Favorite clothing? Talks/mumbles to self?
Folds arms? Steeples fingers? Sniffles?
Clears throat? Eats in exaggerated delicate fashion? Compulsive cleaner?
Calling card? Makes body contact? Talks same subjects?
Symbol/sign? Falls asleep during presentations? Hand on knee?
Sidles close? Hand or arm on shoulder? Taps foot?
Stutters? Trances when thinking? Walk or run daily?
Blinks a lot? Closes eyes when talking intimately? Nervous grooming?
Cracks knuckles Nervous grinning? Pencil tapping?
How does your character talk?
Does your character habitually lead off conversation with verbalisms like "so I said . . .," "let me ask you a question . . .," "I've been thinking . . .," "ya, but . . .," etc.?
Uses a lot of slang, uses a more aristocratic tone, etc.?
Does the character talk incessantly? Seldom? Only when important s/he do so?
HOW OTHERS SEE THE CHARACTER:
Kind? Generous? Fun-loving? Nervous?
Loving? Angry? Irritable? Cheerful?
Depressed? Polite? Clean? Dirty?
Cool? Warm? Stern? Easy-going?
Mellow? Curious? Intelligent? Stupid?
Ignorant? Perky/lively? Honest? Sneaky?
Docile/meek? Courageous? Stubborn? Timid?
Loyal? Trusting? Doubting? Outgoing?
Persistent? Respectful? Irreverent? Principled?
Patient? Impatient? Sharing? Stingy?
Cruel? Manipulating? Suspicious? Aloof?
Deceitful? Dishonest? Destructive? Accident-prone?
Greedy? Sadistic? Masochistic? Power-hungry?
Crazy? Forgetful? Hedonistic? Rebellious?
Independent? Dependent? Impulsive? Meticulous?
Insecure? Self-assured? Patronizing? Reclusive?
Unfriendly? Slothful/sloppy? Unprincipled? Unscrupulous?
Vengeful? Weak/vapid? Withdrawn? Spontaneous?
Introverted? Extroverted? Self-centered?
What is most likable about the character?
What is most disagreeable about the character?
How do others react to the character?
paragraphs of "info dumping", it's desirable to do so. Long
narrative tends to get skipped by most readers (not good), and
info dumping calls attention to the author, breaking the reader's
immersion in the story (a capital sin). Here's some strategies
for handling info dumping in more "transparent" fashion:
Deductive Introspection-- Character puts two and two together in his head as the reader "watches"
Introspective Reminiscing--One or more characters reminisce about past events crucial for the reader to understand what's happening.
"Stranger in a Strange Land"--Person or alien in an new environment has to ask questions; reader gets educated as the plot develops
"The Briefing"--Character in a new situation is briefed by a more knowledgeable person or persons; the reader listens in
"The Bard"-- Poetry at the start or in the interior of a chapter telling us something about the situation and/or characters (as in JRR Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS or Mike Resnick's SANTIAGO)
"Media Blurbs"--Encyclopedic, newspaper, newscasts, e-mail messages or book excerpts at the start or inside a chapter that conveys info (as in Asimov's FOUNDATION TRILOGY; Van Vogt's THE WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER; Vernor Vinge's A FIRE UPON THE DEEP)
"Strategic Character"--Character specifically chosen by the author so that she's always at the right place at the right time to see something the main character can't
"The Dr. Watson"--the sidekick approach (as in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES)
"Strategic Debate" --two or more characters argue; during the argument, important information is brought out.
When one of the above just doesn't seem to fit into your story naturally, instead of info dumping you can "lace in" information throughout your story using short author-intrusive phrases or sentences. While this isn't wonderful, it is better than paragraph after paragraph of dumping. Just ensure that the laced in phrases or sentences seem to naturally flow from the narrative or the situation being portrayed, and that they satisfy a crying need for the reader to get this information. In other words, try to minimize jarring the reader out of their immersion in the story.
Should you use outlining???
The answer is: Maybe. Keep in mind that every writer is
different. What works for Lynn Abbey, Diana Gabaldon, or Stephen
King may not work for you. What works for me may not work for
you. That said, here's what I see as the benefits of creating a
You'll have a framework on which to base your story, which gives you a strong sense of security and direction as you write.
If you're writing a "multi-threaded" plot, you'll find it easier to keep track of those threads.
You'll know--early on--if you need to shore up the middle of your story (thus avoiding 30,000-word, "middle-muddle" paralysis).
The outline itself can become a mechanism for creative plotting (I bury questions and thoughts right along with my plotline in the outline).
An outline provides an easy mechanism for tracking your progress--you'll know where you are and have a pretty good idea of how much of your story has yet to be written.
You'll have the basis for the final outline which can be sent as part of a query package.
A story synopsis is much easier to write if you have a story outline in hand.
Now some writers declare that outlines torpedo their creativity; others love 'em and can't be creative without them. I'm one of the latter. They work for me because I don't let the outline "rule" my writing effort. An outline is a tool and nothing more. Flexibility is essential.
My outline changes as I write a story. When I start out, I have one version of a plot outline written from start to finish. When I'm done with my story, the outline's changed significantly, because I've let the story flow in the direction my creativity has driven me. In other words, the outline is nothing more than a tool for focusing my thinking and recording the results. In its latter capacity, the outline becomes more detailed over time as I record how the plot actually evolved.
Since outlining works for me and others, I don't believe that anything inherent in outlining interferes with the creative process. I do believe that what the writer believes about outlining does. If you believe an outline will constrain, block, or destroy your creativity, it will.
Anyway, don't take my word for this. The best course of action is to try outlining. If it helps your plotting, continue to do it. If not, don't.
By the way, the length and detail of your outline is totally arbitrary. Doing a short outline like mystery writer Alex Keegan does may be enough, or doing one that shows more detail like those fantasy writer Lynn Abbey creates may be what you want. I would advise against doing too detailed an outline (i.e., no 100+ page outlines), though. While detailed outlines might work for some, the majority of us find them a lot of work for minimum payback. The idea here is to maintain enough flexibility to be able to change things--in other words don't box yourself in with excessive details. Let the writing give rise to the detail.
You may be curious about what I outline when I outline. Basically, I outline plot threads scene by scene. Each main point in my outline describes a scene in one sentence. Sub-points are usually the goals I have for the scene; what the scene question is, stated in one sentence; what the rough action sequence is; and any other items I need to ensure get into the scene. Over time, as I record what actually resulted in my writing, the rough action sequence becomes a more detailed action sequence; and, if the scene question or scene goals have changed, those changes are reflected in the outline too.