I normally spend very little time building extensive character profiles and backgrounds and even naming my characters.
For example, I’m working on a kind of dark fantasy book right now. The three main characters so far all have names. Spence. Roger. Drake. They were the first thing that popped into my head when I wrote them into scenes. I also have a short story where the main characters are Fighter, Thief, Magician, and Bard.
I know that someday I will need to get better about a lot of that kind of thing but for now, I’m focusing so much on plot structure and really getting control of a story arc. After all, I am a writing hack and this is the part that I have decided to work on right now.
I figure that when I spend a year or three writing regularly that I’ll start to internalize a lot of the control of plot, be able to regularly finish stories I start, and be ready to focus on other aspects of the story. I like to think of it like learning to swing a golf club. I took a few weeks of lessons several years ago. The instructor tried to get me to focus on one thing at a time. One week it was grip, one week it was backswing, etc. Trying to focus on too many things at one time just makes the whole swing fall apart. I know I might not write a lot of great fiction right now but hopefully what I do write will start to get better on the one aspect that I am focusing on for each story.
I felt a lot better about this approach after reading Randy Ingermanson’s post about Getting Your Characters to Speak To You where he does a great job of telling beginning writers to just relax and work on learning how to write without becoming overwhelmed by trying to make everything perfect in every story. It will come when we learn all the basics and put in the hours of practice.