One final tip from the course I did last week was vertical profiling for characters. I’ve done this in a very ad hoc way before, but I liked the structured approach and thought I’d share it with you. Character profiling is obvious, of course. You need to explore who your character is before you can do them justice on the page. Vertical profiling takes that one step further, looking at both what other characters think of one individual and what that individual thinks of those other characters.
The course recommended you do it in a grid like this:
Both ways reveal more about a character than single dimension profiling can, because you see not only how Michael is viewed, but also how he thinks about others which reveals aspects of his personality and thought processes.
The course that I was on dealt with the analysis of an existing manuscript, and recommended that you use quotes pulled from the text to complete this grid. Direct speech quotes should be in quotation marks, paraphrasing or quotes from exposition should be underlined, and assumptions extrapolated from subtext but never actually stated should be in question marks. Like this:
Obviously that isn’t a great help if you’re still working on the manuscript, so at the early stages you’ll need to just scribble notes. But you can then go back and compare what you’ve written against the planning notes to see if those relationships and character traits have changed from what you’d intended, and to check how consistently you’ve written a character. Relationships and opinions change over time, of course, so you may find you need to do a Beginning and End grid for certain relationships, to reflect that development.
The other useful thing this grid can do is highlight points of tension or conflict, which gives you ideas for plot points. If your characters are strong enough, just putting their relationships together like this should give you a shape of one or more (sub)plots. You can obviously choose to ignore them, but it shows you clearly what some of your options are.