14 January 2010

Character biographies can be great things!

I've been working on character biographies for two of my characters in the coffee house book, and character cards* for the other characters.  Since Ethan's character is the most important, I did a full character biography for him, using the life interview questions found in Robert Atkinson's The Gift of Stories: Practical and Spiritual Applications of Autobiography, Life Stories, and Personal Mythmaking.†  It's an exhaustive list of questions, but perfect for character development.

In addition to the character biography for Ethan, I did one for Vivi, who is the manager of the coffee house.  I really learned a lot about her, and discovered something.  Vivi is the heroine of my NaNo 2009 novel.  I know NaNo is over, but I'm planning to edit it in March and make it something worth reading.  And as I wrote Vivi's character biography, she really resonated with me as the main character in She Pondered These Things in Her Heart.  So I may change Vivi's name in the coffee house book (then again, I may not), and when it comes time to work with Pondered, I'm going to rework the character into Vivi.

Though most of what goes into a character biography never winds up in the pages of a story, it's important to know a lot of this background stuff so you know your characters.  Your characters' backgrounds are what makes them who they are in your stories.  Here's an example from Vivi's character biography:
Q: Were you ever told anything unusual about your birth?
A: When I was born, Mama said I was very alert and social.  When Mamie [French term for "grandma"] saw me just an hour after I was born, she said I was TrĂ©s vivant!, so my parents named me Vivienne, which means "alive."
That little tidbit won't be in the story, but it helps me know more about who Vivi is, and why she has the personality she does.

I'll admit, sometimes character biographies are tedious and annoying, but they can be a very good thing!  If I hadn't done one for Vivi, I'd never have known that she was dying to be the lead in another book altogether!

Do you create character biographies?  If so, how do you do it?

*character cards: index cards giving the basics of minor characters of the coffee house book, as well as their roles. (Ex. Shawn's card indicates that he is a musician, drinks caramel lattes, and that his story is hiding from his wife at the coffee house.)

This is a good book for writers!  Even if you're not writing autobiographies, life stories, or personal myth, there's some great info here about typical story structure (the hero myth, that is), and I think the book is worth having just for the life interview questions to use for character biographies.  There's a new edition out.  I suggest you pick it up!

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