When it comes to my writing – or even planning my writing – I’ve always been the type to want to jump right in and start putting words to a page. Granted, I’ve always been a fan of outlining (aka plotting) and I swear by it most times. But one thing that I have never done, nor would ever see myself doing, is building character profiles. I’ve always thought it was some hand-wavey nonsense that never really added to the story, and was just some fluffy way of getting to know your characters better. Or, at least, that’s the feeling I always had when I’d read blog posts or see YouTube videos on the subject of outlining. They always seemed to include the assertion by the writer/author on how important character profiles are to the creative process, and all that mumbo jumbo.
So, naturally, all of my outlining efforts to date have been sans-profiles. I’ve simply jumped right in to planning the plot structure and scene list without any sort of guide on who my characters are and where they come from. And that was all well and good until I realized that my characters, even my protagonist, largely had little to no depth whatsoever. Yeah, the characters had actions and dialogue, and even emotional credibility and substance. But there was nothing beyond that. There was no backstory, at least not one that I could ever build into a 8-12K word short story. Some brief mentions of days past, etc – but nothing that really spoke to what the characters went through to get where they are today. Now that I’ll be starting the debut novel in the Joe Fletcher series, this type of substance and backstory is critical, so something needed to change if I was going to make compelling characters that people wanted to read about.
I’ve started test-driving a browser-based writing app called The Quill. It’s very similar to Scrivener, for those that are familiar with the ever-popular writing tool which seems to be the utility of choice for most indie authors out there. Up to this point, I’ve been using a combination of MS Word and Google Docs for my writing. And there’s nothing at all wrong with either of those choices, as they both are very straightforward word processors and do that job wonderfully. But what they don’t do is provide that corkboard-esque way of organizing, scene building, and researching – which are monikers of Scrivener and Quill, and something that I wanted to try out first-hand. One of the additional features of these two platforms is the ability to create character profiles within your project. They have placeholders for the typical details like name, age, background, biography, etc – including an option to upload a picture of your characters likeness.
Writers/authors often refer to this practice as casting their characters, which again, always seemed like a bit of a 7th-grade-English-class approach to fleshing out your character details. But in an effort to appease the creative-writing gods, I gave it a whirl in this new app called The Quill. And low and behold, I found the process to be a delight! I started with the two main characters that appear in most of my short stories, and will continue on into the novels that will follow. Rather than expound upon the little jolts of excitement and satisfaction that came from building backstory for these two characters, I’ll just pull back the curtain and show what resulted from that exercise.
[Note: the actors used are pretty damn close to how I saw these two guys in my head, and it’s odd now that I’ve truly given them a face – because now I see them so much more clearly. And having seen these guys on TV, I feel like their personalities match up closely as well – which is perhaps why I identified with them in the first place.]
So without further ado, I present my character profiles for Fletcher and Griggs.
Name: Joe Fletcher
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Occupation: Fixer (aka “Consultant”)
Strengths: Vigilant, Resourceful
Weaknesses: Booze, Women
Biography: Joe Fletcher grew up in the suburbs of DC, raised in a typical middle-class family of four. He did decently in school and sports, but then flunked out of college because he was more focused on chasing girls and bonging beers. His folks cut him off, and he wasn’t too keen on slicing pizzas for the rest of his life, so he enlisted in the Marines at the age of twenty. Boot camp in eastern North Carolina was tough, but he made it through, and was quickly shuttled off to Iraq in 2005. He gave Uncle Sam his four years, decided it wasn’t for him, and returned home to DC. Naturally, the common thing to do after returning from war was to become a cop, so that’s what he did. Joe was hired by the D.C. Metro Police Department, and worked for several years as a beat cop alongside his partner, Griggs. A routine report of a break-in one night at a convenient store ended with Joe fatally shooting an unarmed teenager, something he still struggles with emotionally. Per protocol, they threw him on a desk and that’s where he stayed for six months, til he couldn’t handle the monotony anymore and turned in his badge.
Joe found that with his military and law enforcement background, it was fairly easy to get a security clearance for government work, so he did a stint in personal security for a few different congressman. One official in particular, who had some questionable business dealings and backdoor arrangements, started paying Joe under the table to be an errand boy of sorts, provided that he perform the tasks with the utmost discretion. Eventually word got around that Fletcher was the man to do your dirty work if you couldn’t risk exposure. And as luck would have it, nearly everyone in DC with an elected office and a pulse fit this bill. So when the congressman went to jail for tax evasion, the clientele came out of the woodwork and Joe has seen a steady paycheck ever since. Even though Joe has made a damn good living at accommodating the flexible code of ethics for his growing list of clients, he still knows where to draw the line, and is not likely to put himself in another position of regret for taking a life unjustly. Over the years, Joe’s reputation grew, and the jobs more complex – and more dangerous.
Name: Nolan Griggs
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Occupation: Detective, NSID
Strengths: Passionate, Persistent
Weaknesses: Brash, Hot-Tempered
Biography: Nolan Griggs was a kid from a lower-class immigrant family (Scotch/Irish) that bootstrapped his whole way through life. Being the chubby kid from the rougher side of town, Nolan got into a lot of fights as a youngster and quickly learned how to hold his own. Outwardly he maintained a tough persona, but inside he was a good kid with a good heart. Growing up, he had one goal, to become a cop and protect the friends and family in his neighborhood that he cared most about. He joined D.C. Metro as a cadet right out of high school. He didn’t have the grades to land on the fast-track, so he pounded the pavement for over a decade as a beat cop. His long time partner of five years was killed when they rolled up on a drug deal gone bad. The station assigned him a greenhorn that was fresh out of the sandbox, Joe Fletcher, to be his ride-along. Griggs was a few years older than Fletcher and had certainly seen more years on the street, so he was reluctant and not at all patient with the newbie. It was a bumpy first couple of months but eventually the two became the typical ‘buddy cops’ and worked well together.
Just as things were going good for the pair, his partner got busted down to a desk after mistakenly shooting an unarmed teenager when the two responded to a break-in at a convenience store one evening. But Griggs continued to muster on, and eventually was bumped up to detective at the local precinct. A few years of establishing roots with the neighborhood informants and bigger fish alike, he was offered a position in the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division, which he handily took. Griggs and Fletcher continued to brush shoulders over the years with Joe in his new line of work which often found him adjacent to, or at odds with, law enforcement in one way or another.