12 December 2010

Character Biographies

Ugh. These character biographies are going to be the death of me. Let me 'splain.

No. Too much to 'splain. Let me sum up.

The coffee house book has a large cast of characters. And because of the way I'm writing it, each character kind of has to be treated like the main character. That means each character has a detailed character biography.

For my detailed biographies, I use the Life Story Interview found in Robert Atkinson's The Gift of Stories. (It's meant to write someone's life story, and covers just about everything you could think of for a life story interview. It's great for character biographies, not to mention the rest of the book is great for the craft of writing.) Some time ago, I typed the questions into a template in Google Docs, and when I need to do a character biography, I save a copy and go through and answer the questions. Easy-peasy, right? Well, yes, except that the unanswered biography is 9 typed pages.


I have one completed biography for the coffee house book, and it's 16 typed pages. And I have lots more of these to do. It's taking a bit longer to do than I expected originally, but I know it'll be worth it when I start writing.

I know some people who swear by character biographies, and others who create the characters as they write their first drafts. Whatever works for you is fine with me. I'm not here to persuade anyone into using character biographies anymore than I'm here to tell you that you "should" use outlines or scene summaries prior to writing (I use both). But I do want you to know why I do character biographies, and why these particular biographies are so important to the coffee house book, as well as some future books I'm planning.

Let me start by saying that I'm not writing a series, really. The stories I'm working on don't follow a bigger story in the way a series does. However, the stories I'm working on are connected. They all take place in the same town, and there are characters that overlap between the books, and personal characters' stories that are developed across the books. (I'm considering them a collection of books rather than a series.)

Because of the way I'm writing the coffee house book (and the future books I'm working on), every character is just as important as every other. It's up to the reader to decide who's "the" main character. That's why I'm using Atkinson's interview for all of them. They all have stories to share within the framework of the bigger story, and I have to do justice to all of them.

I have a lot of work to do if I want to finish these biographies by the end of the month. The good news is that when I finish the character biographies for this book, I'll also have some of the character biographies done for both the funeral book and the wedding book, as well as the other books I'm planning/working on.

On a side note, this collection will have tons of bonus material for anyone who would want to know more!


  1. You've now got me burning to see some of these questions!

    I'm finding the basic bio just don't do it no more - I've been getting down in the weeds regarding all of my important characters (of which there is a plethora, a veritable maddening crowd, if you will), and that's made them far more interesting. 90% of what I know won't end up in the actual books, but it influences everything. The better I know them, the more interesting they become and the easier they are to write.

    So what I'm saying is: "Never give up! Never surrender! Those bios, pain in the arse though they are, shall be worth it!"

  2. I know they're important. I think part of the problem is that writing them is making me more excited about the story and wanting to get to the actual writing of it. But I know if I jump the gun on that, it won't go well.

    Trying to be patient....!


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