1. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Character Bio

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by GuardianWynn, Jan 6, 2015.

    I love having like a complete list. I am a bit of a perfectionist. Guessing not the first person here to admit to this problem. lol.

    So I know something like a character bio doesn't require a set critia. Writers and there freedom and all. I just haven't been satisfied with the ones I have wrote. So I am trying to figure out a better model for writing one. I figured you guys might have ideas what kind of information should go into one? Which information doesn't need to go into one?

    Advice and opinions would be greatly helpful.

    To add context, my universe is fantasy based with magic and stuff.
     
  2. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Here's a list I cribbed from a writing course:

    Physical
    Age
    Height
    Size
    Health
    Assets
    Flaws
    Psychological
    Intelligence
    Temperament
    Happy/unhappy
    Attitude
    Self-knowledge
    Unconscious aspects
    Cultural
    Family
    Friends
    Colleagues
    Birthplace
    Education
    Hobbies
    Beliefs
    Values
    Lifestyle
    Personal History
    Major Events


    You might want to include something about magic, or other fantastical features.
     
  3. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you for the advice :)
     
  4. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    You should not be too picky on character bios. You should just focus on the basics and data relevant to the story.

    Your basics could be things like name, age, origin, appearance, and personality. Then, you add information tied to the settings and society of your story. For example, you could describe the type of magic that your character uses and any unique abilities.

    The information that you do NOT need are pretty much any information that have no relevance to the story or is made obvious really early on. For example, no need to bother listing educational level if that sort of thing is never brought up in your story. If you really want to flesh things out, go back and do it later. Some people will even argue that bios are a waste of time entirely.
     
  5. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    What about the trick of timeline?
    Characters change right? lol
    I wasn't thinking of a bio related to a story as much as a bio of just the character.
    Example Kerrin. She is a villain in one book(age: over 200) but I am writing a origin story of her as a young one before she became a villain. How to solve that problem?
    To me writing it helps me get better insight on the character more than referring to it. Figured if I go to the trouble I should learn to write a good one. :D
     
  6. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    A Bio is essentially only a "snapshot" of a character at any given point in time. It is only meant to help you get an understanding of your character at the moment that you start writing (or at the end if you prefer that). You should never rely on a bio to cover changes across a large timeline. That is what your actual story is for.
     
  7. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, Nilfiry, I have to disagree about the "snapshot" aspect, his bio is his whole backstory. OK, for the purposes of getting on with what's important (the story in hand) it neither needs nor deserves to be that voluminous, but it should explain why he's biased against/for dwarves, whether he's stronger/weaker or brighter/stupider than an elf. A bit like a SWOT analysis. My earlier post just quoted a generic list that suggested aspects that deserve consideration. I've used it, but only as much as I needed. It's a tool, not a straightjacket.
     
  8. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Swot Analysis?
     
  9. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Strengths
    Weaknesses
    Opportunities
    Threats

    It's commonly used in business to decide whether to undertake a certain project, to try to quantify the pros and cons.
     
  10. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see.
    So if you agree with a bio covering a wider analysis how do you think I should go about it?
    To show a transition? Like write one part as history? Or Future? lol


    Thank you everyone for the advice
     
  11. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Yes, backstory, but nothing more. A bio just helps you paint the picture of how a character came to be at the start of your story. It does not cover how the character will be through the progress of the story. Unless, of course, you intend your story to be a biography.

    It is fine to be extremely detailed with your bio if that is what it takes for you to better understand your characters, but if you focus on that too much, it will distract you from the actual story. Letting the past hinder the present applies to writing characters too.
     
  12. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that Nilfiry and I are in agreement...as much backstory as you need (bullet points only) and no more.

    If you write the character's entire life, from birth to the end of the book, you'll have no scope for him to do something spontaneous.

    One of my pieces, a war story, was going to be the German capturing the Brit...turned out to be the other way around when I came to write it...it just seemed better that way.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm firmly opposed to these questionnaires with strengths, weaknesses, psychological traits, etc. Firmly opposed to anything that looks like an RPG character sheet. They have no context, and almost every attribute of a person is context-dependent.

    A character described as "honest" might indeed declare every little source of income on his taxes and refrain from taking deductions about which he has any doubt whatsoever, and he might spend sixty cents in postage to mail a check refunding a store for giving him twenty cents too much change. But he might also steal packets of coffee and sugar from an employer that he feels is cheating him by overworking him.

    That's the kind of contradiction that makes a character real, and it's the kind of contradiction that this kind of character bio not only won't reflect, but might actually suppress. You're typing away at a scene, the character is passing the coffee room after a twelve-hour shift, he grabs several coffee packets, and you say, "Wait, this is inconsistent with his 'honesty' trait. What do I do?" Sure, you have the freedom to ignore that trait, but I think that some writers will instead feel at least a little bit hampered by it. Maybe you decide, "OK, uh, it's, um, a 'fair dealing' trait, that's it!" And then you discover later that, no, it's more complicated than that, too.

    If I were going to create anything like this, I'd insert it into the world of the character. I might fill out a character's college application form, or write a reference interview between a potential employer and a friend of the character. In that reference interview, Jane may say, "Joe is the most honest person I've ever met; when I quit and moved away he mailed me forty cents that he owed me." That isn't as potentially hampering, because you know that Joe likes Jane and wants to deal fairly with her, while Joe hates his employer and doesn't care about fair with respect to them. The interview is inside the world and all its subtleties and context.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Glad you said this, ChickenFreak, and you said it better than I would have done.

    Don't waste time on character bios. Get to know your characters the way you get to know real people. Meet them, talk to them, watch what they do, listen to what they say, introduce them to other people and watch what happens. Learn about them slowly, on a need-to-know basis. Let them reveal themselves as real people do. Some will be very upfront. Others will play cards close to the chest. Some will become your soul mates. Some will become enemies. Some will fascinate you. Some will bore you to tears. Let your characters behave like real people, follow after them and write down what they do!
     
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  15. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    As always thank you for the advice.

    I think there may be a misunderstanding. I don't plan to write a character bio as some kind of cheat sheet for me to keep by me. I would never think of doing something like that. I just find it fun to do. Also I feel like writing something like this, is almost like having a conversation with them. One of the reasons it is so fun.

    @ Chickenfreak honest concept. This I feel is a true pit fall to be weary of but I think that pitfall exists regardless of it you write character bio's. I find the concept you list here interesting. I have told other people similar things. The main thing I take from this is just to be a bit loose in the use of such descriptive terms.

    Such writing goes back to my roots. See when I first started out I had no idea how to start. I had all these characters and I had them doing stuff but I had no idea how to write it. (Seriously even a fifth grade creative writing assignment looked better than my work.) So what I did was wrote all my characters bio's also listing what they did in the story. Only referring to their actions from there perspective. My story became jumbled up in a large amount of jigsaw like puzzle pieces. It was granted pretty bad.

    With my new writing I find the only thing I don't write anymore is those old character bio's. I am guessing because I not sure how to improve them. So I figured I would try and learn how. :D. While I would never use them like a cheat sheet I might consider showing a friend them like a cheat sheet. Making my replies to friends a bit more consistent. lol Does that count as cheating?
     
  16. Nicoel
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    Nicoel Contributing Member

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    There are the people who write freely, and then the people who have an outline to guide them. Personally, I hated using outlines in school. I would always write my essay/short story first, then create an outline based off the final product and usually my teachers were never the wiser (or they chose to ignore it).

    I feel like character bios are a way to make that outline, to help you concentrate. Even though I generally don't go for traditional outlines, I do write a character bio based on that universe and story. It helps me get to know and understand the character better, and it will aid in telling their story.
    I always create the "form" based on the individual story first, then fill it out.
    [Edit: I mean that every form is different for every story, they all aren't "one size fits all"]

    An example:

    Physical
    Age:
    Height:
    Appearance (vague, so I can put whatever I feel is necessary here):
    Emotional Strength:
    -----Why:
    Physical Strength:
    -----Why:
    Background
    Home life:
    Amount of siblings:
    Friends:
    Life Events (that will be a factor in your story. Not that one time when they accidentally swallowed a watermelon seed):
    Mentality
    Powers:
    Preferred weapon:
    Outlook:
    Love Life:
     
  17. jaebird
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    jaebird Active Member

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    I've written a lot of bios like the example Nicoel gives, but after I'd written them, I almost never looked at them again. The only thing I think they're really good for is to get you thinking about the important aspects of your character that you'll need in the story. I prefer to write out things about my characters' background and such in paragraphs. That way I feel less limited and can ramble on, which generally leads to some fairly decent ideas to pop up along the way.
     
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  18. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    The two most essential things about a character are personality and basic desires.
     
  19. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Name:
    Height:
    Weight:
    Hair Color:
    Eye Color:
    Age:
    Current Residence:
    Education:
    Occupation:
    Place of Birth:
    Date of Birth:
    Gender: Male
    Species:
    Relatives:
    Abilities:
    Skills:
    Weakness:
    Immunities:
    Weapons:
    Character Outline:
    History:
    Battle Style:
    Sypnosis of Events in the Book:

    This is what my outline looked like. Anyone have any comment on it?
     
  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I can understand the attraction to this kind of thing. As long as you are writing and actually finishing stories, I have no problem at all with this. If this pre-writing exercise allows you to create characters who will become believable people when you insert them into your story, fair enough.

    However, I distrust meticulous list-making, because it can create the impression of progress while diverting you from the real work of writing. The real work is not thinking up stories and characters. The real work is putting your words together to create the illusion that your fiction is real, of building a world your readers won't forget, and creating dilemmas that suck your readers in and make them worry about what will happen next.

    You can make a detailed, bulletproof outline, then sit down to write and find you're stuck, that you're just connecting dots, and the fun has gone out of the exercise. And you wonder why, and feel you have writers' block, or maybe need to think up a different story, etc.

    I would never say never. If character sheets help you actuallly write your story, then more power to your arm. I would just be cautious if I found myself spending lots of time creating the perfect character sheets and plot outline and very little time actually writing chapters in my story.

    .......................

    There is another pitfall to 'character sheets' that I've certainly seen exposed from time to time, here on the forum. There is a temptation to include many of the characteristics you've listed when introducing your character and setting to the reader. It's disconcerting to be told the age, the eye colour, height, weight and favourite hobbies of the person who is running madly across the moor, pursued by a flock of carnivorous sheep. (How's that for Fantasy? Good, eh? :))
     
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  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yarn needles, and knitting patterns scattered from her pockets as sixteen-year-old Matilda rushed across the field, her jet-black curls caught by the tree branches that stretched barely above her scant five feet stature, her svelte eighty-seven pounds barely crushing the weeds underfoot, weeds that matched her melting green eyes.
     
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  22. jannert
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    :rofl:
     
  23. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Funny enough I am having the reverse problem. I started that way, using character sheets to do a basic outline because I was new and had no idea what else to do. Now? Currently I am doing chapters and real plot. I find it easier to do. Now I feel like I can't write the character sheets anymore. Kind of frustrated at the loss of talent. Though on reflection I don't think it is really a loss of talent as much as the same talent which I am no longer happy with. I thought taking a break and writing character bios would be a nice change of pace. But if I do so I want to improve my ability at doing them. Does that make sense?

    I don't get this? Is this a reference I should be getting?
     
  24. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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  25. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes.

    Information about a character has diminishing marginal returns. Some types of information give you a lot of insight into your character in return for minimal effort on your part. Other types of information require you to do extensive research and decision-making before writing, only to find they do not significantly influence what the character actually does in the story.

    The single piece of information with the biggest bang for your buck is the character's personality type. If you are familiar with the theory behind the typology system (the website I linked is my favorite resource on the theory), then a mere 4 bits of information (1 choice out of 16) will help you understand how your character's mind actually works internally.

    Age, place of birth, gender -- those are all just inputs into the machine. They only tell you so much about the machine's output. What you really want to know is how the machine works. Personality type tells you a lot about that. Obviously not everything, and obviously you will deviate from it, but it is a hell of a lot of insight in return for the 4 bits of information you put into it.
     
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