Three-dimensional protagonists are de rigueur in genre fiction. Building a character profile is a sure-fire way to work towards this goal. Imagine sitting across a desk from this individual; taking a walk on the beach or an evening stroll through town. What do you want to know? What questions should you ask? Ask them all. Start from the beginning. Who are the parents or grandparents? What did they all do? Does your protagonist resemble his grandmother? Did they emigrate to or from a certain country? What are the most vivid memories from childhood or a first home? What position did they play on the soccer team? Where did the individual have a first kiss? What smells remind him of his mom’s kitchen?
And while all of these specifics will help you know your hero/heroine, bigger questions and topics need to be raised. Beliefs? Moral compass? A strict sense of right and wrong? Politics, religion, social issues. Philosophical issues. And then, use these to create the internal or external conflicts. What would your hero do if faced with a certain dilemma? Where in his internal make-up does he have room to improve? What has he been avoiding? What is he scared of? What is his blind spot? What goal is he trying to reach? Is there anything in his profile that would lead him in one direction or another? Working with this idea, for example, you can create a third generation cop; you can give him all of the trappings of being from a cop family. His neighborhood, his bar, his ethnicity, his pals, his PAL team. So then what type of person does he have no respect for? A career criminal. If you write romance, then make the heroine a criminal. Conflict.
The character profile, if comprehensive, will provide you with all sorts of material to use and intertwine with your main plot thread; the mystery, or suspense angle, etc. Don’t just stick to the Who, What, Where in the backgrounds; build a person.
To return to the above-mentioned WIP, I suggested to the writer that he go back to his profile for his hero and add on so that for example, a new scene can show the hero meeting a suspect in a certain location, perhaps that location triggers something; maybe something painful or meaningful. Let the reader “see” both the scene location itself as backdrop but also as a catalyst. So you can accomplish two things; move your story forward by writing an active scene and show your three-dimensional character by exposing his inner make-up.
The goal is to have a fully realized storyline and a fully realized protagonist. A character profile is great writing tool.
CAROLINE T. has edited 400 novels, including 3 New York Times Bestsellers. Her genres include romance, women’s fiction, thrillers, and mysteries.