I like to write eulogies. Not for people I know, but for my characters. It allows me to synthesize a character’s life in 500 words or less. Writing eulogies for your characters gives you the chance to write a different kind of profile. It plays with perspective and in this respect gives you the chance to view your character(s) in retrospective. A lot of what we do when creating characters is we think about how their pasts impact their futures as told in the plot, whereas with a eulogy it allows for the entirety of the character’s life – in its most important parts – to be profiled, both the portions that occur and impact the story and the parts that are external to it. It can be argued that the parts of the character that are external to the story don’t matter and this has some merit, however, writers must know their characters beyond how they relate to the plot. As Hemingway said – I’m paraphrasing here – a good writer knows what to leave out. This applies to description of setting but also characters. With respect to character, what matters in one story might not matter in the next, but it might matter further on depending how many times this character comes up in your writing – see prequels and sequels.
I keep the eulogies short because it provides a challenge but also it keeps things basic and to the only the most pertinent facts about the character and that character’s life. What mattered most? What were his/her biggest accomplishments? What would this character like to be known for? This gives me great starting points to expand on every aspect of this character and his/her life.
I don’t do this all the time but whenever I do it works and is a fun exercise. Good luck and enjoy! And if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it! Also, I feel I used the words “parts” too much in this post. If you can pick the time I used the thesaurus because this annoyed me, you win absolutely nothing. It can be a fun exercise nonetheless though, no?