Want to develop your character? Write a Dating Profile

canstockphoto15012604Run a Google search for “character profiles” and you’ll pull-up lot’s of character worksheets and questionnaires. Some of them are really basic, asking your character’s favorite color or if he ever had a pet. Others delve into character background – sometimes tracing steps all the way back to the character’s immigrant great, great grandparents.

But what if we took a real world approach to character profiles?

Stay with me, as this may sound crazy — but dating websites are designed to ask questions that allow other people to really get to know you. They’re geared toward real people, and you want your characters to be as real as possible. So, what if you turn the profile around and answer questions in the head of your protagonist (or antagonist or love interest or whoever). You’ll really get to know that character, and probably discover some new, surprising things in the process.

Here are some sample questions from an eHarmony profile:

  • Other than appearance, what is the first thing that people notice about you?
  • What are your three BEST life skills?
  • Four things your friends say you are…
  • What are five things you “can’t live without?”
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What are three things for which you are most thankful?
  • What is the ONE thing that people DON’T notice about you right away that you WISH they WOULD?

These questions (and many more found in a good dating questionnaire) go beyond the basic height, weight and hair color descriptions found on generic character profiles, and really ask for a deeper-level understanding. Spend time thinking about the answers and it will directly influence your writing of character reactions and dialog. It will also subtly weave descriptions and imagery that lead your reader to say, “That character was soooooo real!”

Looking for more info? Check out these articles:

Looking for good character quirks? Check out this book

Book Personality TraitsI just found this book and I want to know where it’s been hiding. It’s a brainstorm of ideas for creating unique, interesting characters. And, as you know, I always say, “Readers may open the book for the plot, but they stay for the characters.”

‘Writer’s Guide to Character Traits’ is written by a practicing psychiatrist and writer, Linda N. Edelstein Ph D.  I have the second edition (which is available on Amazon for under $15 by clicking here). Honestly, I can’t put it down and I’m now trying to come up with stories to put some new character ideas into.

Not only will you find a lot of ideas on ‘quirks’, but the book goes on to explain how that quirk can affect different areas of a person’s life, including work, relationships and romance. It even delves into possible causes for a particular quirk.

Honestly, I think every writer should have a copy on their bookshelves!

 

Looking for more info? Check out:

Quirky Character Traits

Does Your Sleuth have a quirk? He better have a history to back it up

Five More Life Lessons that make great character growth

canstockphoto13359774I’ve found five more sentiments that can add a layer of personal growth for your sleuth and leave the reader feeling that the book meant something. Sure, the adventure is fun or the mystery is thrilling, but readers love character development because it adds weight to the story. As the old saying goes, a strong plot plus a strong character arc equals a great novel.

There are many examples of character growth out there. These are a few additional ideas I had, especially for an amateur sleuth thrust into the middle of a murder mystery. You can read Number 1 – 5 by clicking here.

6. You’ll never know yourself if you Let others define your dreams and identity for you.  Kids who have parents who pushed them into sports or a “family profession” can grow up with all sorts of insecurities and resentment. Marriages with a spouse who has squashed her dreams in order to see her companion succeed can lead to ticking time bomb. This provides a clear character arc, where the Protagonist learns to stand up for what she wants and ultimately strives to achieve it. The greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are; the second greatest is being happy with what you find.

7. Holding on to negative friends and family members will corrupt you.  People are often held back from pursuing their goals because of the friends and family members around them express negative attitudes. Here, the heroine learns that keeping the company of negative people is a choice, instead of an obligation, and once she frees herself to keep the company of compassion instead of anger, generosity instead of greed, or patience instead of anxiety, she find a whole new world of opportunity awaits.

5. Avoiding change and growth will limit your potential.  One of the most basic of personality traits is one resisting change. Whatever the change (be it family, work, or socially) the resistance can create great internal and external conflict. For the character to grow, she must learn to let go of the old to make way for the new. There may be consequences and/or loss with either decision (to change or to not to change) but ultimately the change should lead to new opportunities and success.

8. Settling for less than you deserve will hurt you in the long run. This is always a great place to start with a character — whether she’s settled in her career, marriage, or social status — she must become strong enough to let go of her insecurities and wise enough to recognize and pursue what she truly deserves. The drama comes in when it will take something big to really knock her down lower than she’s ever been before, only to, by the end of the book, stand taller than ever before.

9. Endlessly waiting until tomorrow will never allow you to live, accomplish and move forward. A character with big aspirations and starstruck dreams but is all talk and no action is fairly relatable. We all think we have more time than we do. However something must happen to shift her thinking (a brush with death, the loss of a loved one, a milestone, another character’s success). At that point she must either set out for (and maybe achieve) her goals, or wallow in a list of excuses.

10. The world doesn’t owe you a thing. Many a story starts out with a character who has entitlement issues. Ultimately, this character must learn to take full responsibility for her life. It often comes from the universe knocking her down a peg or two, and she learns empathy for other people and a realistic idea of her place in the universe.

Life Lessons that make great character growth

canstockphoto13359765There’s a formula that a strong plot plus a strong character arc equals a great novel. Readers love character development because it adds weight to the story. Sure, the adventure is fun or the mystery is thrilling, but add a layer of personal growth for your sleuth and you leave the reader feeling that the book meant something.

There are many examples of character growth out there. These are a few ideas I had, especially for an amateur sleuth thrust into the middle of a murder mystery.

1. You can’t give up when the going gets tough. The story opens with a character who has spent her life running from her problems. She’s never dealt with adversity because she’s always taken the easy way out, especially when things get tough. But, as the story unfolds, she learns that there are some things worth fighting for, and must stick around to face her problems.

2. Being selfish and self-centered is not a healthy or socially acceptable way to live. You just know a character who begins a story as a self-absorbed prima donna is going to get spanked with a whole heap ‘a Karma. She may initially react inappropriately to the events unfolding around her, but by the end, she will find her place in the universe, and generally be a happier person for it.

3. Wearing a mask to impress others will ultimately hurt you. A character who spends the beginning of a story concentrating on everyone else’s perception of her, or who everyone else wants her to be, is headed in one direction: an embarrassing reveal of her true self. This character will ultimately learn not to fear the judgments of others. If she stops living to impress others – others will be impressed and inspired by how she deals with her imperfections.

4. There is no real relationship if you can’t first love yourself.  A character with low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and a genuine dislike of herself is probably beginning the story in a lonely place. Or she may be brokenhearted, with a history of lost loves and disappointments. Then she gets swept up in the events of the story and learns her true value. Real love probably isn’t far behind.

5. Micromanaging every little thing in life leads to failure. The character who begins a story needing to control everything in her life is about to have her entire world upended. The more she tightens her grip, the more out of control her life becomes. When the dust settles, she’ll have learned that she must relax and let life happen without the incessant worrying and micromanagement. She may even come to the realization that life was actually in perfect order all along, she just couldn’t see it or understand it.

Want to read more? Check out:

Eight Life Lessons: Ideas for Themes and Character Arcs