Writing Character Profiles & Bios - Tips & Advice
Character profiles serve two very important purposes: One is to give people who are unfamiliar with your character a general overview of what kind of person your character is and what xe's all about. The other is to have something for you and potentially other people to refer back to so you can keep the facts about your character straight. Read on for tips to make profiles that give people what they need to know about a character while avoiding going utterly overboard on detail.
Note - this is not an article about developing your characters - if that's what you're looking for, take a look at:
Character Creation & Development Theory (Or, How To Make Characters 101!)
Building Better Backstories - Tips & Ideas
Table of Contents
- What your character's profile needs
- What to put into a history/bio
- Watch out for these pitfalls
- So in short...
What your character's profile needs
What you should put into your character's profile can depend on different things, such as what kind of world your character belongs in. Generally, if it's a trait or quality that is likely to be important to the plot or that will affect your character's daily life in a significant way, it's probably worth mentioning.
What you should put into your character's profile also depends upon who you're writing it for. If you're writing the profile for your own personal reference, feel free to put anything and everything on it you feel is relevant to your character or that might become relevant at some point. But if you're writing it primarily to let other people know about your character, you need to stop and ask yourself what other people would need to know, what might be mildly interesting but not really necessary to know, and what's just cruft. For example, people generally need to have a basic idea of what your character looks like, but they probably don't need to know the exact shape of your character's ears. Knowing your character's favorite types of music and food is mildly interesting but probably not really necessary, and pretty much nobody needs to nor is really itching to know your character's favorite gemstone, preferred brand of lipstick, or shoe size. A good rule to go by is that if it doesn't help readers form a general image of your character in their minds and most likely won't have any bearing on the plot or have any real effect on your character's everyday life, you don't need to mention it.
Also, a profile written with other people in mind will need to be more than a simple list of statistics, quirks, and preferences, particularly where your character's personality and history are concerned. Trying to boil a character's personality down to a few key traits cannot convey the nuances and complexities that a real person can have, and that your character should have. So rather than write something like "irritable, hates obnoxious people," it's better to describe how your character is prone to acting in certain situations - eg, "Alessandra easily loses her temper around loud and unruly people and almost never hesitates to chew them out."
And speaking of your character's history...
What to put into a history/bio
Your character's bio should primarily focus on on events and details that lead your character up to being the person xe is today. Go for the things that had a big impact upon your character, whether positively or negatively, and continue to impact your character up to the start of the story or roleplay. Remember, it’s not what happened that that's important; it’s why that event changed your character’s life and made xir who xe is now.
If you are writing a profile for a new roleplaying character, creating and writing down each and every detail of your character's history, personality, and preferences is not only unnecessary, but inadvisable for three reasons:
- You'll most likely end up with a monstrously long profile that many people won't have the time or patience to sit through and read. (Remember: Almost nobody thinks your character is as interesting as you do.)
- It will give other players little to nothing new to discover and learn about your character during the course of the game if they have read your profile, which means there will be nothing to surprise or intrigue the other players with. And because they already know everything, other players will have less reason to have their characters talk to and thus potentially bond with your character.
- If your character's backstory and personality are so detailed and specific that there is no room for improvisation, you risk ending up with something unplayable and useless if you find that your character isn't gelling into the story and you have no wiggle room to add anything to the backstory that would help.
You also need to ask yourself if your character's bio will include any concepts that might be unfamiliar or ambiguous to the target audience. For example, if you're writing a Harry Potter fanfiction and describe your character as a "witch," you can count on people to know what you mean without any extra explanation. But if you're writing a bio for a character who lives in an original universe or a universe in which the rules and boundaries of witches have not yet been set, they'll be relying on you to inform them of what being a witch entails.
Watch out for these pitfalls
One thing to avoid putting in your profile are Captain Obvious statements or facts - for example, many profiles state that the character dislikes "rude people." But nobody likes being treated rudely or seeing others treated in a way they perceive as unfair, so this really isn't worthy of being pointed out on a profile. On the other hand, if your character reacted in an unusual or dramatic way around people xe perceived as rude or had an unusual/dramatic incident that lead xir to have a special dislike of rude people, that might be worth pointing out and describing.
Also, try to avoid vague or subjective statements like "my character likes having fun" or "my character is fun to be around." First, everyone likes having fun. Secondly, what one person considers "fun" might be boring or obnoxious to someone else. In either case, this doesn't really say anything useful about your character. A better way to go about this would be describing what your character does for fun or things your character does that might be considered fun. (See also: Common, Yet Terrible Character Descriptors - And How To Fix Them (And Write Better Descriptions In General).)
Likewise, don't describe your OC in terms of how xe's cooler, stronger, or more talented than a canon character. Not only do you have the same problem as above, but being stronger or more talented does not equal being a better character. Badassery isn't a contest, especially in the realm of fiction - if the characters had no weaknesses or vices to struggle against, or if they could do anything and everything they wanted or needed to do without breaking a sweat, there would be little dramatic tension and the story would be boring to watch or read. Plus, almost nobody likes a one-upper, power gamer, or munchkin.
So in short...
- Describe your character's appearance enough to give people a general idea of what xe looks like.
- Mention traits and characteristics that will be important in the plot or affect your character's daily life. Don't worry about those that won't.
- Give practical examples when it comes to your character's personality, rather than simple lists of traits and stats.
- Give a general overview of the main events that made your character who xe is today while leaving enough room for improvisation in the future.
- Don't try to make your character look cooler or more badass by describing how your character is cooler, better, or more powerful than so-and-so.
You might also be interested in:
Backstory Idea Generator
So You Want To Have A Powerful Or Talented Character Who Probably Won't Be Perceived As A Mary Sue?
Describing Your Character: Tips & Advice
On Giving Your Characters Flaws & Weaknesses
General Roleplaying Tips & Advice
Tips For Describing & Summarizing Your Story & Pitching Your Plot Ideas
Reasons Your Character Might Be Boring