Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Character Bios

Julie Dao asked me in the comments to last week's WiP Wednesday about my character bios.  I thought I'd take some time to go over those a little more in-depth than I did in the comments.

My biggest resource for questions to ask about my characters is Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life.  The first two chapters of his book cover dozens of questions to ask.  Chapter 1 is all about the external.  What do they sound like?  How about cheekbones?  Wais size?  All sorts of stuff like that.

Chapter 2 focuses on the internal.  He covers topics like conversational focus, sub-conscious programs, religion, spirituality, etc.

For any given character I go through most, if not all, of these questions.  Until I lose steam.  Which is why I can only do a couple of character bios at a time.  I make it a goal to at least cover the physical description questions and the stuff about tone of voice, accent, etc.

Take, for example, my bio for Derek, the MC from Lodestar.  I've got 4 or 5 pages on him.  I answer most of the questions found in Lukeman's book.  But then for side characters such as Grady or Evans, I only have a page covering the basics of background and physical description.

Since in Lodestar ethnic background is important I make sure I note that for each character, regardless of how in-depth their bio may or may not be.

I hope that this helps answer Julie's question a bit better.  I'll probably do another post on bios sometime, too.  We'll just have to see how it goes.


  1. I never answered any formal questions for my characters, but I did type up long backgrounds for each of them. I think it helps guide their motivations throughout the book

  2. Thanks so much for answering my question! :) It sounds like a very in-depth and intense way to understand your characters, which is exactly what I need. This is another thing I will add to my to-do list before NaNo. I'm excited to see how it turns out! Will have to check out that book you recommended.

  3. Backgrounds definitely help, too. Sometimes doing that works better than all the questions I can ask.

    You're welcome, Julie. I hope it helped in some way. But just remember that you have to find a way that works for you and for your characters.

  4. Thanks for sharing what you do. I haven't read Noah's book. I think I'll have to check into that. I do a pretty detailed description of my characters, but not until I'm atleast 3 or 4 chapters in because, honestly, I don't know what those characters are like until then.

  5. One of the issues with writing without a written outline is that a lot of this kind of planning goes out the window. But, I know my characters now, and am actually working on after-the-fact dossiers for my own sake. Neat post!

  6. I'm going to need to get this book. My characters just sort of seem to come to life about halfway through and I have to go back and flesh them out in the beginning.

  7. Susan, my characters can still surprise me, even after I do all this detail work.

    L.T., with my new book I don't have an outline, but the character bios keep me guided because I know where they are currently and where I want my characters to be. So it can be a sort of outline, if you let it.

    Elana, the book is actually pretty hepful. It gets you thinking about things that don't immediately come to mind when you're developing characters. But you still should find a method that works for you and for the book you're working on. Like with everything in this world, different situations require different tactics.

    Thanks for stopping by, Bane! I hope that this post was helpful in some way.

  8. I start with minimal character bios and descriptions, write, write, write and go back to clean up the details later. I would love to be a better outliner/planner. *sigh*

  9. I need to grab that book. I am going through character bios now to prepare for my new WIP.

    Great insight. Thanks so much.

  10. It takes work, Deb. And I'll be the first to tell you that I'm no patron saint of characterization. It's just something new I'm trying this time around. And it seems to be working okay.

    Tamika, good luck with your character bios.


All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing.

Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author.