This chapter is brought to you by Sybil Priebe and edited parts of this Wikibook42.
On the cover of most magazines are people posing and photoshopped. Profiles are the textual piece that’s written about that person about halfway into the magazine. Rolling Stone might do a profile piece on the most influential band at the time, Glamour might have a profile piece on some actress who has a movie coming out, and even Hunting might have a profile piece on the newest species to watch out for.
The best profile pieces typically include interviewee statistics, intriguing quotes from that interviewee woven in with a summary of the interview, concluding analysis of what the interviewer thought of the whole interview, as well as background information on the interviewee before or during the interviewer’s body paragraphs.
Unlike some profile pieces in magazines, most teachers will not want students to simply report back every single word the interviewee said. They will want that nice balance of quote + summary: approximately 30% quotes and 70% summary/analysis.
A good profile piece requires a well-rounded person; these are people who are fleshed out in detail, with, for example, a back story that explains their motivations. A flat profile piece is less well rounded, possibly even one-dimensional. They are not as interesting to read.
The following takes you through the steps to create a well-rounded profile piece – it starts on the outside and works its way to the insides of the person.
The appearance of a person is important but remember as a writer you are describing the appearance and much will be left to the readers’ imagination. Of course, if you are writing for film or television or for a visual work like a comic book, then appearance becomes more important.
You should decide the physical attributes of your profile person. At the least you should consider:
- Height – are they tall, short, average?
- Weight – are they overweight, underweight, average?
- Skin tone and freckles, hair and eye color
- Distinguishing features – birthmarks, scars, tattoos
- Hair color – brunette, blonde?
- Hair length – short, long, shoulder length?
Some of these attributes will be worked into the writing early on to allow the reader to form an image of the character in their “mind’s eye.” You should try to avoid the stereotypes – not all pirates have only one eye and have a wooden leg!
ACCESSORIES & CLOTHING
Think about the things your character wears, carries, and uses and whether any should be distinctive. Think of Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver, James Bond’s Walther PPK, or Carrie’s heels in Sex in the City! These are all iconic accessories. People in real life tend to favor certain items and these items are part of how we recognize them and think of them. The glasses they wear, the type of watch they use, the jewelry they wear. Add accessories to shape your profile person. Are they fascinated with different sorts of glasses? Funny tshirts? Vintage Levi’s jeans? Use a pocket watch instead of a wristwatch? Wear a locket around his/her neck?
This section covers the creation of the profile person’s background. The background is essential, even if it is not actually detailed. As well as making the profile more interesting and adding depth to the story, the writer can use the background to ensure the profile person’s behavior remains consistent. If the writer has written up the background and stated that the character is claustrophobic, then the readers are more likely to understand why the profiled person doesn’t like MRIs if the interviewer asks them about medical issues the profiled person has had.
Start out with writing down some of the basic facts:
- Is your character male, female, transgender?
- Where was your character born?
- How old are they?
- What is their current job?
- What are their interests outside their job?
- Who do they love? And who did they used to love?
- Who are their enemies and friends?
Ask about the profile person’s heritage. Is he/she Irish, German, African American/Black? A writer might try to bring out the profile person’s heritage in the profile piece. Use the way they pronounce things, and how they feel about things to demonstrate their background, perhaps.
Your profile person’s heritage (and current nationality) could affect other aspects of the profile piece or questions the writer will ask. But equally you should strive to avoid the stereotypes – Germans aren’t all mean, Italians aren’t all about love and pasta. Sometimes discovering the opposite of the stereotypical view will surprise and interest your reader. How about a vodka-loving Norwegian?
MOTIVATIONS & ROUNDEDNESS
You need to understand why your profile person behaves the way they do. Ask them about motivations that you can’t understand – otherwise you won’t be able to write effectively about them.
Very few real people are static or completely stable. Your profile person might have things that drive them and things that repel them – but there will probably be more than one. Nobody is just a custodian, nobody is just a mother caring for her children, nobody is just a busy doctor.
Is your profile person mean, nice, funny? That can be determined all by their personality...
Most people have a mixture of a few personalities. The caring mother mentioned above might be a Type-A scrap booker and a wine lover. The busy doctor might compete in triathlons and have three pit bulls who she/he puts into competitions. The custodian may be a collector of vintage motorcycles, obsess over a particular hockey team, and spoil his/her granddaughters. It is your job as the profile writer to ask questions that lead to these findings. Here are a few questions to ask:
- What adjectives would your friends use to describe you?
- What hobbies do you have?
- What would your “best day” consist of?
- What is on your Bucket List?
- Describe yourself in one sentence.
- What’s something weird in your fridge right now?
- What three items would you want on a deserted island?
Profile: The Little Details
Details are very important in writing a profile piece; they could make or break your story! I won’t give you tips on little details, since there can be so many, but I will tell you one thing: when writing out details, be careful, they can change your profile piece a lot! For example, a reader can tell that a character is impatient if he/she taps her feet from time to time.
EXAMPLE: “SHE ‘WANTS TO BE A ZOMBIE IN A FUTURE LIFE’.”
When she was born, I called her “that girl.” Apparently, I wasn’t too keen on having another kid around. I had the place to myself for three years, so, I guess I had territorial issues.
She was chubby = “Just say I was a fat kid already.” She still claims that her baby gut never went away; in college, it was expanded with her addiction to diesel Pepsi. Since then, she’s given up that all-out sugar and fills the baby gut with beer. “It’s the only right thing to do.”
She also felt the oddness, once the other siblings were born, of being the middle child = “It sucks.” Alisa was accused of things the rest of us did, which was not cool, but it happened. Of all of us, she was an easy target; she feels guilt quicker (“It’s that damn Catholicism at worked!”) and had a very secretive rebel side that no one knew of until later. Did she really start smoking at age 14? Yep. And drinking at 15? Yes. But we didn’t suspect it.
We lived together when she decided to go to NDSU. At that point, I was a clean freak and she wasn’t, but when I ended up on my own later, teaching & exhausted, we would switch spots. Now, she’s almost got OCD (“I like things done in 5s; when people touch the volume in my car, I have to ask them to do it in units of 5.”). And what adds to it is her English degree. We both get easily irritated with spelling and punctuation errors.
With that English degree came more awkwardness of what to do with it. She’s very creative but lacks confidence. And she’s not a huge book reader, either, which shocks most. Her most recently read book was The Zombie Survival Guide.
While at times I have felt like a mom to her, she is my best friend. We look similar, but her very blue eyes and naturally brown hair make her look wiser and more authentic (“Do people think I’m older than you because I’m angry?” Me: “I think it’s your hair color.”). She’s brutal and fun and knows how to kick ass. Any mention of zombies or pirates or sharks (“Shark Week! Did you know…”) or Peyton Manning, and she’ll talk your face off. She’s almost gotten two nicknames related to her storytelling skills = Sideline and Bulldozer. She tends not to stay on track, and, yes, she’ll bulldoze you over with statistics any time.
She’s the glue in our family. I wouldn’t be as close to my youngest siblings if it weren’t for Alisa. We’ve been through a lot together, but we stick by each other. We’ve paid each other’s way, financially or otherwise (“Red Lobster, courtesy of Ma & Pa!”).
At the end of my life, I hope her and I follow-through on our wishes = to have purple hair and wear sweatpants along with t-shirts that say stupid stuff like “Princess” or “Bite Me.”
Priebe, Alisa. Personal Interview. 14 Dec 09.
Assignments and Questions to Consider
This project is a small interview-based piece, known as a profile, about someone you know. At the minimum, you’ll complete the following criteria:
- You will interview the person.
- You will write about their life up to this point, using quotes from the interview.
- Make sure you have written about them in a way that lets us into who they really are. Ask interesting questions; get them to tell stories.
- Proofread. Have someone else read it aloud if you don’t want to.
- Add a very, very cool title.
42 “Character Creation.” Wikibooks, The Free Textbook Project. 17 Aug 2010, 15:00 UTC. 16 May 2016, 15:18 . Licensed CC-BY-SA.