Work Up Character/Setting Profiles?
(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)
So on the one hand, I like to think of myself as an organized writer. I'm definitely a plotter. I love The Writer's Journey and Romancing the Beat. I don't start writing until I have a synopsis that breaks down what's going to happen in every scene from beginning to end.
On the other hand, I am not that meticulous about my characters, and especially about my settings. I build Pinterest boards for each book with visual inspiration (this is mostly an excuse to search for pictures of hot guys, sue me). I write character sketches and setting descriptions while I'm plotting, and then promptly never refer to them again, unlike that synopsis I mentioned, which I check in on at the start of every scene.
Last year, I found these great character questions from Mia Hopkins, and they are super useful when building character sketches (even ones you never look at again).
I say I hate you because… But I really love you because… The thing I dread most is… Because I crave… But you provide a better substitute, which is…
These are really helpful, because they make you think about your character's behaviour, rather than just the things that happen to them. So often, I see new writers put together character sketches that are just a list of facts, rather than a discussion of who their characters are. Things like what their job is, who their friends and siblings are, the tragic thing that happened to them when they were five years old. These are good, but providing the emotional context is better.
Oliver is a lawyer. He has worked for the firm for 10 years. He is a workaholic.
Oliver is a lawyer. He prides himself on putting in his best effort at everything, including his job, where he has worked for the last 10 years. This pride has taken a wrong turn somewhere, because now he feels he can't leave the office before 10 pm, otherwise people will think he's slacking. He's worried about looking less dedicated to his job than his colleagues, even though he has more case wins under his belt than anyone else at his level.
See how much richer that is? Even if I never refer to it again, it's building a more detailed character in my head, which let's me jump into my story faster.
How do you build your characters?