How to Create a Character Bio Template
You have a great idea for a book, but you don’t yet know anything about your main character (being ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ is not enough to move a story forward). Or perhaps you’re struggling with your latest novel and can’t work out your character’s motivation.
Elevating a book from a good idea, to a compelling and addictive read, hinges on deep characterisation. This is where a well-crafted character bio template comes in. Or, in this case, all the ingredients you need to create your own bespoke character profile template.
You can also sign up for our FREE Jericho Writers Character Building worksheet.
What is a Character Profile?
A character profile is a document that you, as an author, compiles during the (preferably) beginning stages of a first draft. The character template should document everything about your character’s life – from how they look to mannerisms and their back story.
A character profile template will allow you to keep all the important details about your protagonist/antagonist in one place to be used as a writing resource when attempting your first draft. It can also be a handy tool to check details and continuity during the editing process.
But don’t be intimidated!
Character template writing needn’t be boring or laborious. And your character bios don’t have to be cumbersome, lengthy or complicated. There are no hard and fast ‘rules’ about what you can and can’t include.
In short, your character template sheet should be crammed with as much information as you can think of.
Why is a Character Bio Important?
Writing your character creation template is important, because if you don’t understand your character fully, then neither will your readers.
We all know that the concept or plot is what makes us read the first few chapters, but it’s the characters that keep us turning the pages. In fact, even the most implausible story ideas can capture the hearts of many, if they get the connection with the characters right.
Take, for instance, the story of Eleanor Oliphant, in the novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Any other character in her place, anyone less unique and complicated than her, would have made an intriguing and riveting book really quite dull.
Readers get invested in a story because they relate to the character on the page, or because they are invested in their growth. They stick around because the characters feel real.
But characters won’t feel real to your readers if they aren’t real to you. So how do you create that with the help of a character bio profile?*
*Before we start – a word of warning
Once you learn the art of writing a character profile template, you will never look at your characters the same way again.
So let’s begin…
What to Include in Your Character Bio Template
Creating a character profile will essentially develop the bible that your leading players will live by. And although 90% of what you discover about your characters will never make it to your novel, having a deeper understanding of your characters and their motivations means that when you put them in certain situations, they will show their true selves in the most natural way.
There are plenty of detailed character profile templates out there for you to use, adapt, and play with. Some are spreadsheets, some Word documents, some forms to fill in. But I think the best way to get to know your characters is to develop your own outline based on the questions highlighted in this article. Whether that means cutting and pasting my prompts into a Word doc, or even buying a notebook and filling it with nothing but characterisation notes, you need to construct a template of headers and questions that work for you!
Let’s start with the simple questions first.
It’s so important to be able to see your characters in your mind, therefore start with what they look like and who they are.
Don’t skip the easy stuff, but don’t stop there. When deciding on a character name, question why.
- Was that name passed down by a grandmother?
- Does that mean that family ties are important to this character?
Something as basic as a name can throw up so much depth and understanding about a character, and small important details can be dropped into your novel to add depth and roundness. Same applies to their nationality and heritage.
Again, these help your reader see your character.
- Hair colour
- Eye colour
- Any physical disabilities
Then take those simple thoughts and dig around some more.
- What about that scar on his left cheek? Why is that there?
- Who gave it to him and why? Is he self-conscious about it? Does this change his behaviour when out in public?
- Does she have painted nails, or chipped bitten nails? Could this be a sign of vanity, or maybe those bitten nails are a sign of anxiety?
Personal Preferences of the Character (e.g. political / tastes / cultural)
You can have a lot of fun with this one. Start with the basics and ask why:
- Favourite colour
- Favourite food
- Favourite music
- Favourite restaurant
- Religious beliefs
- Spiritual beliefs
- Political affiliations
Then, get deeper still…
- Is there is a certain phrase your character says all the time?
- Do they swear and if so, what cuss words does he/she prefer?
- What hobbies does your character have? Why?
- Where would we find your character on a wet and rainy day?
- How would a typical weekend play out in your character’s world?
The answers to these questions will filter in like softly spun gold through the pages of your novel.
What’s your character’s health like?
- Exercise regularly?
Health can be a big issue in our day to day lives, so we should be aware of it with our characters, too. You would be surprised how much of a difference it makes when creating a well-rounded character.
- Could bad health or hypochondria run the family?
- Does your character use health issues as a barrier?
- Do they eat well, or binge eat late at night? Why?
- Do they walk with a slight hunch due to consistent back pain that they have grown accustomed to living with over the years?
Career and Education
Even if this isn’t mentioned explicitly in your novel, knowing how your character acted at school and what they do for a living is so important. A career can signal so much about a person and can help you develop who they are simply by looking at what they have chosen to dedicate their life to.
- Does the character have a job?
- How long have they been in chosen career?
- Are they happy?
- What job would they choose if they could retrain?
- Is their job important to them?
- What are their main priorities in life and where does career fit in?
Remember that most of our adult life is spent working with, and surrounded by, others. Work life can change a personality completely.
- How does your character view their work colleagues? And how do they feel about your character?
- Does your character get involved with colleagues outside of work hours, and how does this affect their work/home life balance?
- What is their greatest career achievement?
- How did they do in school? Were they popular? Did their early school life affect their chosen career?
Asking questions like these can help you figure out the motivation and underlying issues your character is dealing with. If it’s a sense of loneliness, has it been there since school? If it’s a sense of entitlement, could that have come from their upbringing?
Flesh out the ‘whys’ and enhance your character development, and the plot twists (or holes) will reveal themselves.
This will most likely be the most in-depth section of your character template – but again, don’t stick to the surface. Even if you have decided your character is mean, narcissistic, and aggressive, ask yourself why. What happened in the past to make them this way?
- Cautious or spontaneous?
- A daredevil or worry-wart? Why? Do they act the same way around other people or does bravado make this person take risks they wouldn’t normally?
- An optimist or pessimist?
- An introvert or extrovert?
- What do you think is your character’s biggest flaw?
- What does your character believe is their biggest flaw?
- What is their greatest strength?
Get down to the nitty gritty, even if most of this won’t appear in your book. Start asking questions that really test you as a creative writer. Ask questions that will push you to find out the deeper motivations, such as:
- What is your characters biggest regret? Why?
- What is their darkest secret? And how would they react if someone found out?
- Are they the type to crumble under interrogation, or lie to conceal the truth?
Family and Relationships
This is an important section of your character trait bible because it’s not until you begin excavating relationship dynamics, that you truly get to know who you’re writing about. Don’t be surprised if your plot changes as your main character deepens.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Spouse/significant other?
- Are the character’s parents still around?
- Do they have any siblings?
- Are they the oldest/youngest in the family?
- Is there an extended family/family support system?
Again, this is surface-level, but look what happens when you start digging a little deeper…
- How do they get on with each of the family members?
- What do those family members think of your character?
- Would they be honest about this to their face and if not why?
- What’s the character’s first/oldest memory?
- What member of their family/support system would your character turn to in a crisis?
- How would they react?
- Does your character trust members of the family and vice versa?
- If your character is married, where did they meet? Love at first sight?
- Were friends happy about the union? Were family members accepting?
At this stage you may even find yourself creating complicated spider diagrams to see how your main character connects with the rest of the cast. Don’t be surprised if this exercise begins to alter your plot and deepen your twists.
Life Stages, Milestones, and Backstory
This section is generally filled with information that you (and only you) will ever know about your character, because no one needs to endure an ‘info dump’ about each character’s backstory. However, small nuggets of this information will always feed into your story if you are adding the required depth of character.
So it’s important to know the following before you start:
- What stage in life is my character in at the start of the story?
- What stage of life will they be in at the end?
- What has been the character’s greatest achievement in life?
- What has been their top three life defining moments?
- If ‘X’ hadn’t happened to your character, how would life be different now?
- How would your character describe their life right now?
- List the major life events in chronological order from birth to now and highlight major events that have changed the course of their life.
Look at you go! The character that you only previously knew as ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ is fast becoming a fascinating, deep, and 3D guy. Let’s go deeper.
Character Perspectives, Outlook, and Opinions
You may think your characters don’t have opinions yet, but that’s because you haven’t asked them. By this point in your character profile template, you should know so much about your character, that this section will seem instinctive. Be prepared, because many of the opinions you discover they have may not be your own. But you have built this fictional person, given them features, history, flaws, and dreams… so you shouldn’t be surprised when they suddenly have their own opinions.
- What do they think of the state of the world right now?
- What is the one thing they would change if they could?
- What is the one thing holding them back from true happiness right now?
- And do they really believe they will be happy if that one thing were to change?
In this section, try to be honest and answer from your character’s point of view, not your own. If your character is lying to you (and you know it), ask yourself what they are afraid of. You must be willing to ask, listen, and analyse.
And finally, ask some of your own questions. These are a few that have arisen after years or doing this exercise:
- Who is your character’s biggest inspiration and why?
- How does your character spend the week before this story begins?
- If your character could jump back in time to one particular point, where would it be and why?
- What is your character’s most prized possession?
- Name four things your character would change about themselves.
How to Develop Your Character Profile Template
Essentially, what you are doing with a character bio template, is sitting down with a large pot of tea and a box of tissues and asking an imaginary person as many deep and meaningful questions as you can.
You are the therapist who wants to know all their secrets, worries, and desires. You are interviewing them for the story of their lives, and you are not leaving until you know each and every last detail.
It’s up to you how you put your character profile template together, whether you go for handwritten notes or a fancy spreadsheet, just remember – the deeper you dig, the more gold you will find.
Once you have built a detailed psychological profile of each important character, you will have all the power you need to help make them come alive on the page! And who knows? It may even inspire new plot twists and scenarios or highlight plot holes.
Deep Characterisation is Vital in Good Storytelling
As much as we love to plan and predict what we are writing, there’s nothing more exciting for a writer than when a twist comes out of the blue and you didn’t see it coming. Often that’s a matter of chance, but not now. Now you know exactly how your character will react, and why, those twists will be much easier to write.
Your character bio template not only helps when creating your first draft, it also acts as the perfect reference guide and checklist during edits. For instance, if you can’t remember the name of your MC’s sister’s boyfriend, no problem, because you will have written all that information down in your ‘family and relationships’ section. Finding and dealing with continuity issues in your manuscript is so much easier if you have a reference guide to check – and it will also save you a lot of hassle when your editor and proof-readers ask for a list of names and places. It’s also invaluable when writing a series of books, as it saves you having to re-read your books to remember back story and character traits.
Essentially, your character bio template can be anything you want it to be, as long as it helps you see, smell, touch, and hear your characters in your mind. No one else in the world needs to know any of the answers to these questions because it’s up to you what to reveal to your readers and what to keep hidden. But truly knowing your characters like this means you will create well-rounded, real, and vivid characters that will jump from the page and capture the heart of your readers.
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