Thanks for coming back for Part Deux of making us care whether your character lives or dies. Or in other words; how not to get your book thrown across the room or your audience fleeing the theater.
Sally Walker’s 36-point Character Chart.
(Sally J. Walker, http://members.cox.net/sallyjwalker)
Remember comments in CAPS are mine.
In-Depth Personal Data
Now that you know where the character came from, you can move into where the character is at the moment of the story. You flesh out personal data with the kind of information your closest confidants know about you!
13. Best Friend: Who and why? "You are known by the company you keep." OR THE COMPANY YOU WANT TO KEEP...A LIE? A SECRET LIFE?
14. Male and/or Female Friends: Again the choices reflect needs met and subliminal reasons. AGAIN, SEE ABOVE.
15. Enemies & Why: From frivolous to vicious, no one relates positively to everyone else. 16. Hobbies: What entertains, distracts, attracts, challenges, and why? Even ancient peoples carved, painted pottery, told stories. Why?
17. Music, art, reading preferences: Tastes reflect satisfaction of needs, even if peer or social pressures, but what if the preference is an oddity or adversity?
18. Dress & Grooming Habits: Direct correlation to self-image and preferences. THIS ONE WAS FUN. IS MY HEROINE A GOTH/EMO OR A SOCCER MOM? OR BOTH, ONE FOOT IN EACH WORLD?
19. Typical Day: From beginning of wake-up ritual through the mundane meals and work routine to night’s sleep patterns, every moment of the "typical day" presents an opportunity for something to go awry, to frustrate and rattle the character...forcing a change that will become the story. THIS ONE WAS REALLY INTERESTING TO ME AS I WALKED MY HEROINE THROUGH HER NORMAL DAY, I COULD FIGURE OUT HOW TO SHAKE HER UP BY TAKING THAT AWAY FROM HER.
The Psychological Profile
After each key area, I’ve highly condensed Sally’s context for each element in parentheses to help you answer the questions below.
This builds on the Character’s History, and goes one step further, actually delving into three key areas for storytellers:
1) Self-awareness. (Is achieved through a deep examination and comprehension of self. Some like themselves, others are totally dissatisfied. Why is there such a disparity of between dysfunctional people and the Tiger Woods of the world? Self awareness. I believe one can "see" it in the eyes and actions of those with low self-esteem and those with confidence, those that hate themselves and those who are comfortable in their skin.)
2) Social Status. (This boils down to position in life. Some positions and roles we have no choice over (where we are born and to whom.) Social status provides opportunity but does not force CHOICE, each human makes their own choice. Social status can be changed whether climbing up to a life with more opportunity or down to less, to the level of brutal survival on the streets.)
3) Motivation. (Is the reason humans act, the reason behind the behavior, the choice. It is not always reasonable or honorable.)
Good story telling is the result of DEPICTING the angst of self awareness, the insecurities vs abilities of social status, and the dilemmas of motivation. It can never be about "the happy people of the happy village" for that enthralls no one.
Now dig deeper into the list and see how it works for you.
16. Strongest/Weakest Characteristics:
17. Greatest Fear:
18. Sees self as...social status and familiar. Then bam, all hell breaks loose. RIGHT!
19. Is seen by others as...OOOH I HAD FUN WITH THIS TOO, I REALLY GOT TO PLAY GOD TO MY CHARACTERS.
20. Sense of humor about...IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE CHARACTER FACING HIS GREATEST FEAR.
21. Basic Nature:
23. Philosophy of Life:
29. Present Problem:
30. How will it get worse?
31. What is the best that can happen? This is where you play the "What If" game and avoid predictability. Brainstorm wildly then choose.
32. What is the worst that can happen? This too is where you play the "What If" game to avoid predictability. Again, Brainstorm wildly then choose.
33. What trait will be dominate thus be vital to story? Same as above, play the game and then choose. Some examples...Stubborn to the point of obnoxiously tenacious...pertinent to a forensic pathologist. Proud to the point of refusing charity...pertinent to the man whose gifted daughter is not allowed to accept a scholarship. 34. Why is this character worth writing about? BUILDING CHARACTER DEPTH WILL GIVE YOU THE ANSWER, AND SOMETIMES UGH, YOU REALIZE THIS CHARACTER ISN’T WORKING AND YOU EITHER HAVE TO FIX ‘EM OR DUMP ‘EM.
35. Do I like/dislike this person? Why? This is important because this profile can be created for your ANTAGONIST OR about a character who is CHANGED by the story.
36. Why will this character be remembered? OH, THIS HIT HOME. I INVEST A HUGE AMOUNT OF TIME IN MY WRITING, SO OF COURSE I WANT MY CHARACTER REMEMBERED, WHO CAN FORGET RHETT, OR INDIANA JONES, OR PRINCESS LEIA (NO, NOT BECAUSE OF THE CINNAMON BUN HAIRSTYLE.)
UNDERSTANDING EQUALS MOTIVATION
The essence of "Character Profiling" is creating a realistic, credible fictional character...or making fictional suppositions about a real-life person. The only person you can truly "Profile" is yourself. Even then you probably will not be 100% truthful or totally knowledgeable. After all, don’t we learn more about ourselves every day we live?
Documenting the backstory and personal data of a character can certainly be as flexible as our own self-awareness. Watching "Top Gun," we understood a boy’s dream to be a fighter pilot like his old man. But why did he have to overcome the bad reputation? How crucial was that backstory to the character’s motivation? Aw, therein lies the subtle need of both character and writer to overcome stereotyping. That one element gave the character consistency, complexity, individuality, and exaggeration that carried the story forward.
So, try Sally’s list before you start your next story. Don’t angst over what you put down at first, you’ll see your character building as you continue to add to the list, and can go back and refine.
And if you find you need help on your current WIP, either your pace is boggy, you seem to be at a dead end or you have WRITER’S BLOCK (which I don’t believe in, and yes you can ask me why,) I hope you’ll find using the list makes a strong difference in both your character and story.