Fiction Focused: A Writing Advice Handbook

The path towards writing great fiction is not an easy one travelled--although many chose to pursue it. Whether these individuals be gluttons for grief, closet masochists, or simply blinded by a euphoric haze of inspiration, a consensus can be reached with each holding the phrase, "The art of constructing fiction is worth it," someplace deep in their loins.

In recognition of the great many who sacrifice themselves to these pursuits, this Fiction Focused handbook promises (in a completely non-contract-binding-unpromising way) that it might be of some use. From writing advice, to personal pet-peeves, to general writing characterisation research that most skip.

Uploads will follow (hopefully) every Tuesday, Wednesday and/ or Thursday.

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3. Characterisation: Character Profiling

One of the more enjoyable (I would think) steps in the process of writing. I mean, what could be more fun than getting to know your characters personally? It’s almost like a date; only without the pressure to look good, awkwardly staring at each other from across the table waiting for the other to start up small talk, or general dating anxiety.


I am unsure exactly how Literature (as a subject) is handled in America (or many other parts of the globe). I am aware, however, that over here (in England) the English curriculum for most students consists of some level of interaction with creative writing; mostly during Primary School, but also during Secondary (as part of GCSE coursework). So, it wouldn’t be wrong, on my part, to assume that the profiling outline provided below is one known well enough by most.


Name: 

Age:

DOB:

Nationality:

Income:

Talent:

Siblings:

Spouse:

Children:

Parents:

Relationship skills:

Height:

Weight:

Race:

Eye colour:

Hair:

Glasses/contact:

Skin colour:

Shape of face:

Distinguishing features:

Dress sense/style:

Habits:

Hobbies:

Favourite saying:

Speech pattern:

Medical:

Greatest flaw:

Best quality:


Character profiling is done to give a more well rounded feel to your characters--yes, including your side characters. Your characters should be the driving force behind your stories, with agency, and a personality of their own. This is one of the first steps I take when drafting, even before starting to outline. Having a good grasp on the components that build up your character make it easier to gage how they would react individually within a certain situation you have placed them in. Not every character would react in the same way (maybe similarly, but not the same). Having your characters react in a variety of ways to a situation makes for a memorable read.


The profiling process is also great for plotting out character development. Maybe I’m just a crazy loner, content with the company of her computer screens as opposed to real human interactions, the type of recluse that can sit on their bed for twenty-four hours and seven days straight during school holidays doing nothing but contriving stressful situations to test their imaginary friends. Just to clarify, by imaginary friends I mean ‘characters’, because that is what your characters should be to you (well, at least on some level), and that’s just how well you should feel you know your characters.


What I am trying to get across is the idea that you, yourself, as the author, need to have some essence of attachment (preferably a strong, overwhelming feeling) towards your characters. Because if you don’t, then it will surely show in your writing, and if you don’t show that you’ve connected with your characters, then how can you expect your readers to do what the creator of the piece can’t? The profiling method prevents us as writers from slipping back into those old archetypes, clichés or tropes, and allows our characters to have some interesting new flavours.


Some of the information (height, weight, skin colour, face shape) can easily be googled. I did want this handbook to work as a come-to point of reference for writers (and myself) during their (and my) manuscripting process, so I’ll probably look up the information and upload it later. For a quicker point of reference, however, provided below is a filled in character profiling sheet (by yours truly) for something I’m currently working on (hooray for shameless self promotion). 


The Example:

Name: Kotch Vega 

Age: 17

DOB: 26th March

Nationality: Limdrus (Limdrian)

Income: Money gets taken out of his pay for living expenses as he does stay in the palace, although he does send whatever else he earns back home. He’s paid on a weekly basis, and earns 120Yets.

Talent: He would obviously need to be good with animals in order to work as a stable hand. He’s also good musically and plays the ocarina. He likes to read; it surprises most that he can read as well as he does, considering his unwealthy background. His mother’s ‘connections’ with the king gives him more opportunities than he’d be expected to have under normal circumstances. He can also cook, clean, sew, and is pretty good at woodwork and carving things in general (his mother taught him how to carve musical instruments out of rocks and wood).


Siblings: None.

Spouse: None.

Children: None.


Parents: He lived in a household with a single mother, no father. His biological father is the King of Limdrus (Orozco). His mother maintained a journal detailing her time at the castle before leaving, and on an occasion a young Koch found the journal and used it as a source of reading (he had a tutor come and teach him, as a deal made between his mother and the King). He ended up reading sections in the journey that exposed the relation between his mother and the King. He had yet to confront his mother about it and was waiting for her to tell him herself. There have been suitors after his mother’s heart, however, she still held some semblance of romantic attachment towards the king.

*His mother could possibly have been killed by the King in an attempt to keep their child’s birth a secret. Koch then infiltrated the castle, not really looking for revenge, but simply believing that his mother would have wanted him to be near his real father. Koch resents the King, however respects Itzel quite a lot more. He blames the king for everything.

Koch could have infiltrated because the King doesn’t know what he looks like; the King attempted to have him and his mother killed by sending them food supplies infused with poison. His mother prevented him from eating the food, upon receiving some form of warning, and thus died alone because of a weak heart. The King then had his guards come to his house in a raid in order to seize his mother, taking her to be executed under the guise of her getting ill due to taking part in drug related activities (there had been a dangerous drugs circulating at the time, that had actually started off as the King’s personal doctor experimenting).


Relationship skills: He’s needed to look after himself since a relatively young age and used to depend on the neighbours in his area for support, thus he has a rather sociable air about himself, and is rather well acquainted with the people in his general area. Otherwise he’s wary around most other people (especially the nobility/ aristocracy), adopting a cautious attitude due to having experience two opposing sides of human nature (from the King and his neighbours).


Height: 6’1’’ (five foot, three inches)

Weight:  172 lbs

Race: Human

Eye colour: Grey-ish, blue eyes.

Hair: Brown, undercut hairstyle with a relatively long top, usually tied in a bun. The top part of his hair is also rather curly.

Glasses/contact: None, although he does need them. Cortez notices this, makes a note of it, and then Itzel becomes determined to get him a pair of glasses fitted. Itzel finds a craftsman to cut the glasses, yet Koch refuses to accept Itzel’s offer to pay on his behalf.

Skin colour: He’s meant to be on the caucasian side, but is actually pretty tanned due to working out quite a bit (a creamy beige colour).

Shape of face: An inverted triangle with high cheek bones.

Distinguishing features: None (although you could consider his glasses, as the design on them is uniquely crafted to suite the design on the broken lock of his mother’s journal; being too poor to afford all the material to pay someone to forge glasses for him, he made it himself, ignoring Itzel’s instances to pay on his behalf...he didn’t want to be indebted to the prince).


Dress sense/style: He usually wears kurtas, phirans with churidars when outside the palace. When working he has to wear a loincloth (uniform colours being navy blue, dark brown, and wine red), with a matching t-shirt.

Habits: He tends to think out loud quite a bit (mostly when alone), due to working with animals (horses) so much, and also due to living alone (as a child it was difficult for him to accept the loss of his mother, and as a coping mechanism he would ‘talk to her spirit’).

Hobbies: Reading, learning new songs and creating songs on his ocarina. He also likes to carve ocarinas out in order to give them out to the children in his area, he also teaches them songs on the occasion. (He learned to carve from his mother, and also learned music from her; his mother used to teach the Prince music).


Favourite saying: “You don’t know what you have till it’s gone.”

Speech pattern: He thinks about what he says before saying it, sometimes saying things with double or ambiguous meanings on purpose (especially when telling ‘lies’ so that he can’t be technically blamed for anyone's blunders later).

Medical: For a while he did eat the food that the King was sending, however after he became really ill his mother prevented him from eating it. Otherwise, he’s pretty normal.


Greatest flaw: His trust of people is kind of messed up, and he tends to be rather ‘meh’ (he doesn’t feel too much guilt) about using people. He can also be seen to exhibit some traitorous behaviour on occasion due to the intensifying hatred he has for the king. At the start he exhibited some rather hostile behaviour towards Itzel as well.

Best quality: He tends to be a relatively good judge of character, and has a knack for asking the right questions.

 

I understand that the process can be long and daunting, and your inner procrastinator or Flight Writer might be clawing at your patience, but it's completely worth it (and can be of great fun). If you're finding yourself getting bored after starting, then consider why? Maybe you're not making your character 'fun' enough (and remember, if you're not finding your character 'fun' to develop, then readers might not find them so 'fun' to read). I know that I have particular fun profiling antagonistic characters; I mostly like contriving the reasons and motives behind their behaviours. Thus when losing focus, I either move onto one of those characters, or create a chink-of-evil for the character I'm currently working on.

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