I have a character profile for every major character in my story. However, I'm having trouble organizing this profile: I don't know how to handle changes to my character as he goes through the story or how to write it down in the character profile in a way where I don't do double work.

Example: I have a character who starts out as a coward and as the story progresses he becomes more brave. Very simple. However, I don't know how to describe his change in the character profile without basically writing down the story again focusing only on him.

I want to keep character-growth and the story itself sort of separate from each other, not just to prevent double work from my side but also to make it easier to change the character profile in case I make changes in the story. Basically, I don't want to repeat myself with every character profile.

What would be a good way to do this?

  • 2
    Are these character profiles just for your own writing, or you including them in your book?
    – Alexander
    Nov 13, 2017 at 21:43
  • @Alexander They are just for myself, nobody else would ever see them.
    – user23083
    Nov 15, 2017 at 14:50

3 Answers 3


This is how I would direct my focus using your "profile vs story" method for detailing your characters:

Character profile: Telling how the character grows in brief, simple terms

Story: Showing how the character changes through the course of the book

You know the age-old mantra that can be terribly over-applied:

Show, don't tell.

In the case of "profile vs story", I think the dichotomy can be helpful. The "Show, don't tell" statement can readily be applied to the story itself, but try doing the opposite for your Character Profile:

Tell, don't show.

Telling takes fewer words and is much less work than showing (and is generally less interesting). A single "telling" phrase (such as "became braver and braver") can summarize the character's growth over the arc of many chapters, for example. "Ferdinand became braver and braver" doesn't make for a great story, but it's a great summary of Ferdie's growth.

I see simple and brief as key here--otherwise, you'll end up, as you predict, writing two stories that are, summarily, identical.


I may not be the best at it but for my characters I may write out a separate document where I jot down a rough timeline: age of character, main events that shaped his/her personality. I find that helpful for figuring out when something happened as well as linking ties to other characters. I find understanding the character's backstory is helpful for figuring out the character and how they behave in the present setting. I can also track down lies they've made up and believe in. I find there may be several lies a character believes. Some of the lies they may have overcome recently, have overcame a while ago, and some they need to overcome.

Maybe doing something like this will help you. Write the rough age of first scene you see dealing with a character (in backstory), what traits they have and an event that had impact. What happened and how did that affect the character? Did they become better or worse? Any lies generated? Lies overcame? Then go to the next scene, their age, event and what affect that had. Keep going until you reach the present time or you're satisfied with what you have.

I don't always write down everything (though I should maybe), I find it really useful. If things change or you learn more stuff, feel free to edit the timeline. Add scenes. Add motives. Add lies. (or take away some that may not fit the character.)

This advice may also differ if you're just working on a single novel or if you're working on a series. This may apply better if it is a series you are planning.


Keep it simple.

A character profile does not need to be an in depth psychological analysis of your character. It is a tool to help you organise your thoughts and your character ideas. Keel it brief, use dot points to plot out your expected character growth and important events.

Try not to get bogged down with writing the profiles and plotting, user it as the skeleton around which your story is built. At the end of the day the reader isn't going to see it, and is sore purpose is as a tool to help you write your story.

The reader does not care if at age 3 he stepped on a butterfly or that he only gets out of the left side of the bed or that his third cousin twice removed once gave him a wedgie; unless it is directly related to the story and is important enough to impact it.

That said, it's also a good tool to use to practice summaries. Effective, concise communication is extremely important, especially when it comes to getting it published.

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