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Author Topic: character bios
Palaytiasdreams
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I would like to know how in depth a character bio needs be for a novel.

I'm finding that as I write I learn more about my characters and none of it is on the bio I've written for them.

Help?

Pal...pondering if she's got multiple personality disorder


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Elan
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The character bio is not for your novel, it's for the writer. The more in depth you make the back story, the better you understand your characters, their personalities, their reactions, their choices. You don't HAVE to have one at all, but it makes writing so much easier and smoother to have put at least some thought into it.
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RobertB
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Use whatever you need to understand your character. I don't suppose any two people do it the same way.
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TaleSpinner
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Everyone indeed has their own way.

FWIW I tried doing detailed bios for characters when I started writing, but I've since given up because, as characters change due to the events of the story, their bios are too much work to maintain .

I'm only writing short stories at the moment, and all I do is make a brief sketch of the main features of principle characters in my backstory notes, then let them develop in the story itself. Surprisingly quickly they take on a life of their own and I remember stuff about them using the same (poor) mental faculties I use for my real friends.

I'm hoping this method will scale up to novel-length work, not least because I fear that having to take time out of writing the story to keep several bios up to date will stifle creative flow.

Perhaps the novel becomes the bio?

Hope this helps,
Pat


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Christine
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Personally, I don't do well with a character bio. Facts and figures about height, weight, and eye color don't tell me who a character is. I spend more time free handing history, significant events in their lives, and I do first person journaling from the character's point of view. Then, as I write, I also learn even more about the character. That's ok. You don't have to have everything planned ahead of time.
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TaleSpinner
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Hmm ... by "bio" I meant name, approximate age, profession, trade or lack thereof. Perhaps oddly, the name is very important to me for it gives me a sense of character, probably by reminding me of people I've known in real life.

For example, in one WIP Jack is the ship's Captain (his short name to me suggests terse, decisive, as a Captain might me) and Samantha is the navigator (which means she's also decisive but in a more thoughtful, analytic manner than Jack). They're both in their mid-thirties. That's the extent of their bios; the rest I learn as I write the story. I have little idea what they actually look like and don't much mind. I'm happy leaving that to the reader. And just the fact that they fly airships in a dangerous world tells me something about their characters.

Cheers,
Pat

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited August 23, 2008).]


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Palaytiasdreams
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"I spend more time free handing history, significant events in their lives, and I do first person journaling from the character's point of view. Then, as I write, I also learn even more about the character. That's ok. You don't have to have everything planned ahead of time. "

I do this exact thing too! For one of my stories I actuall sat down and had "my characters" write a journal entry about their life.

I go back every now and then to read the entries and it amazes me the difference in voice between them all.

I find out so much just from writing that I couldn't put it all down even if I wanted to.

Thanks everyone for all your advice and comments.

Pal...


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Robert Nowall
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Tried it for a couple characters in one novel. The biography of the heroine went through three drafts and topped out at over ten thousand words---which was more than I wrote of the novel. I mined some ideas and background from it for other stories, but the notion of biography didn't work out for me.

Nowadays I generally know where my characters come from, at least the major ones---but I keep it in my head. That way I can make alterations at will.


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MaryRobinette
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I'm not sure I've ever written out a character bio. I do the thousand question thing that OSC talks about in his book "Character and Viewpoint" (which if you haven't read, is FANTASTIC) but once I have a general handle on them I dive in. I keep a spreadsheet when I'm working on a novel so I can jot down notes if I feel like there's a detail I'm likely to forget. Otherwise, I let the story tell me what I need for the character's background to be.

Do they need to be an orphan for the story to work? Great. Kill the parents.

Do they need a distinctive hair color? Nope, let's let it pop up and see what happens.

Heck, I'll even change a character's name at the end if I think of something better.

Other writers work differently. So, the answer to your question is that the character bio should only be as in depth as you need it to be.


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Palaytiasdreams
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"Tried it for a couple characters in one novel. The biography of the heroine went through three drafts and topped out at over ten thousand words---which was more than I wrote of the novel."

I've done that Robert with two of my characters. I've since done what you did and set all that aside and just wrote. Mayhap I'll use the background for a novel itself.

Pal....


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satate
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I like to write a little bit about each of my big characters. I always want to know the generals of how they grew up and any relevant history. I also use it to keep the little details straight, eye color, hair color, or sister's child's name. It helps me keep everything straight. I have to keep it short to so that I don't have to spend forever reading just to remeber a random fact.
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Reagansgame
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Pal,

hmmmm, let me guess, when you're into it, you're into it; and your character's - they take on a life of their own. Then it becomes as much fun writing as it does reading a story, because, you want to get back to your word processor of choice just to see what they are going to say next?

I have a very concrete mental picture of everything about my m/c's but never anything actually concrete about them apart from their story. I write notes as I go for details and they are short hand in a notebook, for quick reference. I couldn't create a bio first. It's too one deminsional for me. (As you can see, I have a genetic disorder which requires I over-explain everything)

Does the bio confine your story by giving you pre-set boundries? Which do you go back and change when the character starts to drift: The Bio, or the story?


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ozwonderdog
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I've done bio's before. There's this massive character chart you can fill out online somewhere. And that is kind of okay, but I found most of the information irrelevant.

Adding family members, and some childhood stuff is okay, but I found I didn't really use it very often in the story I was writing. As mentioned above, the characters grew as I wrote, so they grew going forward, rather than backwards, as what a BIO doe, I feel.

I like to keep it simple. A brief description, brothers, sisters, family etc. A few notes, so I dont have to remember loads of detail as I write them. If something significant happens, or I think of something, I would add that to their profile I have made, but yeah, keeping it simple for me.


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dragonfox
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I knew an actress who wrote characer bios for bit parts she aduditioned, even commercials.
She almost alway was cast.
I say big deep bio with every imaginable detail, subject to change.

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tchernabyelo
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I don't find bio charts terribly helpful, though it's possible I should set up forms that I can fill in as characters develop (I don[t usually go with physical descriptions of characters, so I don't care about eye colour, for example - but if I DO mention it it's helpful to note that down in case I mention it again).

In terms of getting to grips with characters - interview them. And not in 3-minute puff-your-new-book talk-show style. Shove them in an interrogation room and play good cop bad cop with them and watch them respond - not just the facts that they come up with, but HOW they present them, whether they play tough or play dumb or prevaricate. You learn about characters from how they work under stress, so take half an hour out to stress the hell out of them. You may find their responses surprising, but it will tell you much more about the character, and make you a lot more caable fo slipping nito the appropriate mindset.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Interviewing characters is a good idea, but sometimes it's hard to do with your own character.

I'd suggest getting a writing buddy who would interview your characters for you and you return the service. That way, you'll get questions you might not have thought of, and you'll have someone outside yourself to follow threads in the interview that you might find very useful in your story.

In fact, if this sounds interesting to any of you, we could set up some topics, maybe in the Writing Class area or the Writing Challenges area (or even in its own area, if there is enough interest) where people could have their characters introduce themselves (one topic per character--similar to the introduction topics), and we could all interview the characters.


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annepin
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Heh! That sounds kinda fun, Kathleen.
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Palaytiasdreams
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Reagan that's exactly how i write!

I have a problem though, as my scenes aren't very exciting so far as description goes. I have a friend who is a painter and she's helping me with that.

I do dialogue better and need to remember that not everyone can see (hera?) inside my head.

I'm learning how to let other's hear the characters thoughts. It's been a tough go, but I'm learning.

True story (if you're in the mood)...I was working on a script about ten years ago while at work. I was writing a scene where one of the characters was a real jerk. As I wrote it I loudly exclaimed my opinion of something he had said (I had written).

My neighbour popped over his cubicle and asked if I needed help with "my caller." I told him no, it was something my character had said that upset me.

A quizzical look comes across his face as he asks "But aren't you writing him?"

"Yes, but I didn't expect him to say THAT." I replied in all honesty.

I think my friend seriously considered me for a straightjacket that day.

But it was true. The character just took over and well...what he said wasn't expected.

I call it channeling...others call it multiple personality disorder.

Pal...ponderin...


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MrsBrown
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KDW -- I'm interested. Can you start it and let us know where to look?
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Palaytiasdreams
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I'm game for the interview brainstorming session.

Pal...


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Palaytiasdreams
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"Does the bio confine your story by giving you pre-set boundries? Which do you go back and change when the character starts to drift: The Bio, or the story?"


The bio hasn't confinded me yet. It has, however, kept me in check when I need to know certain things I thought would be useful at the time.

Like why does Seth wear a bandana all the time...oh yeah! now I remember.

It must have meant something when I wrote it in the beginning, but truth be told, more often than not I find myself not using somethings I wrote however many months ago.

Like Mason and a stray dog he feeds every now and then. Why did I put that in there? Who knows. Haven't used it yet. Maybe I will...maybe I won't.

I'll change the story before I change the character because to me, my characters grow in such that the story may not be exactly as it started out to be. I like character driven stories and as such, tend to write them.

Pal...puttin in her two cents


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tchernabyelo
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The interviewing characters sounds like fun. I'll sign up for that.
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Crank
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I remember KDW mentioning this character interviewing method in a previous thread. I very much wanted to incorporate it into my character development process, but, at the time, all the stories I was working on were populated with already established characters.

Guess what? I just started working on something new. Add me to the list!

S!
S!...C!


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Reagansgame
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I know this sounds odd, but once I did some work at a men's halfway house -my mom was a councelor there- and I had the opportunity to sit in on group night. Now, for some reason, I find myself thinking of my characters in Group. In an interview, people always tend to put their best face forward, and it seems to cover the fundamentals, but because of the anonymity, AA seems to reveal the things that people don't always want to put forward. So, once you've determined if a person is "qualified for the job" you can delve into some darker corners of that person by getting them into a sort of revised CA - Characters Anonymous 2 man group. You can be your character's sponsor! Most of the steps wouldn't transfer, but I'm telling you, in real life, there would be nine strangers in a room, and after an hour-hour and a half of Group, I walked out without having said a word, feeling like I very intimately knew these people. I may forget what color their eyes were exactly or what their middle name was, but I'll never forget what so-and-so's college girlfriend did to him.

Here are a couple that might transfer:

Step One: Make a searching fearless moral inventory of your character (this is supposed to be where a person admits to themselves EVERYTHING that is wrong with themselves without any fear of being called a poop-head)

Step Two: Admit the exact nature of your characters wrongs. (In group, some people went back to jr. high. I take it that far with some of my characters, too)

Step Three: Make a list of some of the people who your character has harmed and where that relationship is going to go. Also, make a list of who harmed your characters. (This is where you explore the relationships of your main characters. Like my m/c put his best friend into a permanat vegetative state, but in the sequel.... well, I've explored that relationship there.)

I like to see my MC sobbing on my couch, and me with a hand sort of on their shoulder saying "There, there, let it all out, this is Good! Let the healing begin!" And really hearing everything that made them the person they are.

This may be a little too personal for an interview, but once you go to group with your character, it'd be difficult to forget the important stuff. Make notes from that.



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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Okay, the "Character Interview" area is just below "Grist for the Mill."

I should warn you that every time I start up a new area, I have to do certain things to make it work. And while I think I've done them all, I'm not sure until someone goes there and tries to create a topic or post a reply.

So, please, someone go try it out, so I know if I did it correctly this time or not.

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited August 27, 2008).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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As the area description says,
quote:
Create a topic for your character and give a description, then as others ask your character questions, you can answer them as if you were the character. We hope this will help you get to know your character better.

So there should be one topic per character--have the character name be the topic name.

There could also be topics for group sessions like the one Reagansgame suggested, if you all want to try doing that as well. It might be fun to see your characters interacting with other people's characters.


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Reagansgame
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OOOOOh, Role-playing. What level Dungeon Master do I get to be?

(I'm just kidding, I know Dungeon Masters don't have levels -- I watched that AllTel Commercial)

that would be so tripy cool. Unique.


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Palaytiasdreams
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Just point me in the right direction and I'll be there...along with the rest of my characters...

pal...


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Reagansgame
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I just remembered something really silly that I did last year. I heard a caller on the Sean Hannity show try to get a plug in for his book one time and Sean said that MySpace was this great free advertising place. So, for grins, I made a profile for my two dueling characters and had them comment back and forth. The boys actually have a lot of buddies on their lists. So, their conversation is there for people to see. It was fun, but I lost interest in about a week or two.
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Palaytiasdreams
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LOL...I have about the same...dare I say..attention span as you Reagan when it comes to stuff like that.

I did something similar and stuck with it about that long.

Sounds reeeeally good for a little bit, then it's on to a new thing.

Glad for it though, otherwise I think life'd be pretty boring.

Pal...pondering just what it means to have multiple personality disorder


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Reagansgame
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PAL
you are a kindred, my friend. Characters that are better that daytime stories for us and brief hobbies. My husband says its the new obscessive compulsive.
In P'cola they have this Double Bridge Run, its a 15K --the marines run it every year, by the by- and every year...about October or so, I start running, and I obscess and run 5 mi. a day until all of the local spring runs are over, then I quit and the only running I do is running up to the gas station for blue bell ice cream! Oh and then there was the scrapbooking phase...
Its copulsive, its obscessive... but it's totally random!

I agree with you, that's what makes life interesting. Every experience can be written off as a work expense if we make it as authors one day, because they all provide an aspect of life we wouldn't have if we had a single hobby and stuck to it. (I do have those, too)

So, Doctor Rachael says not multiple personality disorder-- it seems to me that you have a single personality that enjoys the company of all of your characters too much to share with a seperate personality.


Rach--- wishing she had thought of a signature hook as cool as Pal's


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Palaytiasdreams
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I'm heading out tomorrow for my latest "complusion", a 40 mile hike through Midwest KS reinacting the Mormon Battalion Trek.

I couldn't pass it up.

Dressin' up and everything for this shindig...all for the sake of getting to know one of my characters better.

I think I can pull it off. Bringing two of young un's (11 and 17) with me to make it that much more interesting.

Pal...pondering what in the world she's doing...

[This message has been edited by Palaytiasdreams (edited August 28, 2008).]


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