Most if not all writers who have spent any number of months on a novel or story can attest to the importance of knowing your characters. The more you know a character the more real they become to you. The more real they become to you the more real they will become to a reader. It's quite honestly a chain reaction.
Without knowing a character inside and out, your story or novel will lack a very important element: Realism. If you as a author don't know where your character's birthmark lies, what their back story is and if you cannot feel that they are a real, breathing person, your readers won't either. If your readers don't feel that, they will have a very difficult time caring about any peril that your character encounters. When a reader doesn't have an emotional investment into a character, then their emotional investment is lost in your novel. If you've lost that, then you've probably lost the reader all together.
Not a good scenario, is it?
Aside from helping with realism, these profile pages can serve as an at a glance checklist of simple statistics of things like what color your characters eyes are. Things like this might be minor, but them changing color in the middle of the novel due to forgetfulness is not minor by any means.
You can go as in-depth or not as you choose. You can either use a character profile list online (there are numerous sites with pre-made lists that you can use) or you can make up your own that might fit your novel, story or character better. I like the character sheet that The ECLECTICS site has up.
There are also character interviews you can do prior to writing to help you get into a character's head.Â All of this might be seen as putting off writing, and while it does do that, it also makes the characters stronger in the end.
Do I always fill out the profiles sheets? No, I don't, but I at least know most if not all of the info on them and have it noted in my head or in notes. Do I always interview? No, actually I started to do that last year and never got the time to finish it before NaNoWriMo came around and I had to write the novel.Â
Some characters are easier to step into their shoes than others. For the more difficult characters I highly recommend doing some prewriting exercises like the interview you can find HERE. For those working on historical fiction, I recommend using the list at the bottom of THIS web page.
What are your views on profiles and character development. Do you use the prewriting exercises? The profiles? The interviews? What do you all do to help in development.