What are Character Attributes?
Character attributes are everything you (or the reader) can use to describe a character. Consider how many words it would take if you had to sit down and describe every attribute that makes you a person separate and different than any other person. Start with how you look to others. Physical attributes include the color of your hair, eyes, and skin, whether you walk with a limp, the fact that you get hiccups after you drink Vernors (Michigan gal here, I think the rest of you call it Ginger Ale), or how you have the cutest little heart scar that you got when you fell off your bike while you were learning to ride it and your mother told you later you had been kissed by the earth. Our outward appearances alone could fill a book.
Beyond physical descriptions, we all have biases, philosophies, religious belief systems, traumas, motivations, likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, and more. Our non-physical traits could probably fill a tome. Some of our traits will guide who we are and some will guide how we act in the world or react to events and stressors in the world we walk in. As authors, our goal should be to create characters who feel as real as we do. They should be made up the traits which show they aren't one hundred percent perfect and good or one hundred percent imperfect and bad, and it's our responsibility as writers and editors to make our characters believable.
What is a Character Profile?
A character profile is often done by writers either before or during the plotting of a novel. Getting to know characters on a level deeper than the surface (such as their eye or hair color), helps determine behaviors throughout the story and makes the characters more believable. A character profile will include physical traits, but it may also include motivations, philosophies, likes and dislikes, back story, and more. The profile will also help determine a character's negative traits or flaws instead of just the character's positive attributes. Flaws make a character feel more real and relatable.
If you are interested in learning more about completing character profiles, I recommend Writer's Write or Reedsy because they have really good profiling information and outlines. I also have a OneNote section that I use for character profiling which I built by compiling information from many different sources. You can download my section template.
A character attributes outline will make sure you've constructed a character with depth, as well as stayed consistent in not only physical characteristics, but also in personality, style and psyche. This is the flip-side, post-writing, of a character profile that you may have done while plotting. If you did character profiles before you wrote your story, it's nice to be able to compare what you intended to portray with how your characters actually turned out. You may find that you plotted a character with brown eyes for some very good reason, but then wrote in the story that the character had blue eyes. That inconsistency may need to be fixed, or you may have come up with a better reason mid-story why the character needed those blue eyes after all. A reference to the character's brown eyes later in the story would then need to be addressed instead.
Days 3 - 7 are activities you can do in tandem with each other. Focus on understanding the steps you need to complete for today's outlining by working through Chapter One. If you have time after reading through your first chapter, go to Day 4 and begin that exercise.
As with the other outlines, today's process should be about creating today's worksheet and understanding how to use it rather than reading through the whole story and completing the outline as a single task. This is because you can read through each chapter and complete the various outlines all together and save yourself some time rather than reading through your story three or four times in a row.
Exercise: Complete the Character Attributes Worksheet
If you are creating your notes in your OneNote Novel Editing notebook, follow these steps to complete the exercise:
Character Attribute Parameters
Character - Write in the character's name or, if un-named, a short description. You can do this portion of the exercise from memory. You do not need to list very minor characters unless they come in and out of scenes in multiple places in the story.
Intent - You can do this column from memory. Provide a concise description of how you intended your character to be perceived by other characters in the book and by the reader. If you did character profiles before you wrote your story, you may be able to gather some basic information from your profiles to complete this column. An example of what you might write in this column would be, "Evan is a teen conspiracy theorist with flaming red hair who talks too much."
Chapter/Page and Description - This portion of the exercise is the fact-finding portion. Do not work from memory for this column. You are analyzing what you actually wrote about your characters. Consider including sections for each type of attribute. For instance, you might include headings such as one for physical description where you document eye color, hair color, and skin tone; another section for personality characteristics like quirks, life philosophy, etc. Remember, you are tracking these traits to ensure you have been consistent from chapter one and all the way through until you typed The End.
To Do - Once you have completed the outline for all the chapters, compare the information you collected with your character intentions. You should be looking very closely for evidence that either supports or refutes what you intended your characters to be like. In the To Do column, make a note of any inconsistencies that you find OR any behaviors that are not consistent with the traits you've given your characters. For instance, would a shy character walk into a party wearing neon pink? Maybe, but if that is completely inconsistent with how you envision your character, it might be a note you make in order to correct the scene.
Again, try not to make all the corrections as you read through the chapters. Focus on getting the traits down on paper and looking for inconsistencies where a character's trait doesn't mesh with their behavior. If you start making changes before you have finished reading through all your chapters, you may find you are doubling or even tripling your work because you may change something that you realize later you need to revert back or even change yet again.
Only read through Chapter 1 for now, then if you still have time, go on to Day 4 and start that worksheet. If you are able to create worksheets for Days 3 -7 in one sitting, that's great! It will allow you to read the rest of your chapters over the course of multiple days. If you are pinched for time, that's okay too. Do what you can and don't stress over what a long process editing can be. Try to give yourself a dedicated block of time just like you would do for writing and get done whatever you can.
DOWNLOAD: Character Attributes Worksheet
Tips for working by hand
If you'd like to work on notepaper or set up your own table in your favorite application, include the columns listed above for each table. The percentage listed is approximately the size you should make each column. If you are going to work by hand, on the second table be sure to give your main character their own page and important secondary characters a half or third of a sheet. Your minor characters may only need a couple lines each. You have a better idea of how much detail your characters were intended to have, so plan your space accordingly.
Return to the Table of Contents
Go to Day 4 - Outlining (Part 2 - Setting Characteristics)