A fellow blogger asked me for tips on writing character descriptions, since we’re both prepping for NaNo. I think they’re a great thing to do whether or not you’re involved in NaNo and it’s never too late to write one. Sometimes they’ll give you insights, even if you’re in editing mode. I’m sure everyone has their own definition of character bios, but here’s what I do with mine.
CHARACTER BIOS ARE
I don’t know what it is about first drafts, but they seem to summon the info dumps from the furthest recesses of our minds. The bonus about writing character bios? You can info dump all you want, and you SHOULD. Get that info out. Your brain will want it written down somewhere and your readers will thank you for not having it be the first insanely long paragraph of your first chapter.
So delve into that backstory. What makes your main character them? What do they fear? Motivations? Goals? What’s the best thing that can happen to them? The worst? How are they at the beginning of the story? How will they change by the end? What are some things that could happen that would create that change? Why are they the best person for this role in your story? Will they doubt themselves? Why? What’s their relationship to their family? Friends? The antagonist? Give them a reason for everything they do. They may not realize it themselves. In fact, the best characters often have hidden motives—things they don’t even realize about themselves.
You may not uncover it before you write the story, but that is what’s fabulous about a character bio. You can keep adding to it. However if you’re doing the NaNo, as much detail you can put in now will help guide you as your character comes to decisions. Yes, even you pantsers. And remember, none of this is in stone. You may decide to change motivations later on. And that’s okay. (Just remember to change prior motivations in scenes to match).
Do this for your main, secondaries, and certainly the villain. Anyone of importance will need a bio.
How do you organize it? This is another great thing! Exactly the way you want. I just start writing, like I’m doing a summary for Wikipedia. I may get more detailed and more organized in the future. I probably should. But that’s what I love about technology. We can always go back and change whenever we want.
IF YOU JUST CAN’T OUTLINE
I’m a plotter for sure. I like to do my pantsing via the outline. And the nice thing about having this map is I know where I’m going well enough I feel comfortable taking side trips and veering from the map.
But if outlining is still not your thing, character bios can still give you plenty of direction. If you know your characters well, then while your muse leads you randomly through events and places, you’ll at least know how your character would really react to these things.
I’d still recommend a basic outline, those of you doing NaNo. Even if it’s just seven things you want to see happen in your novel. After all, we’ve got deadlines to meet. Daily. Again, I say daily. So give these character bios a go.
THE ONE TIME IT’S OKAY TO TELL
Remember how everyone says show don’t tell? Well this is the one time you can tell all you like. It’s a character bio, something your readers will likely never see (though they will notice it when they are treated to nicely fleshed out characters). Tell it up. Nervous because? Happy because? Spill the beans on those characters. Write their dirty, dark secrets.
But while you’re telling, also tell yourself some strong verbs and nouns that describe your characters. Are they strong? Heroic? A player? A thief? What emotions do they usually turn to first? Patience? Frustration? Love? What is their spectrum?
VISUAL BIOS ARE HELPFUL TOO
Heard of a thing called Pinterest? Well it can be an author’s dream come true. Create yourself a file for your book. It can be private or public, up to you. Then pin pictures that remind you of your story in there. Find pictures of models or actors that you think look most like your characters and toss them in there. Toss in artwork, your own sketches, photos of places or houses or cars or whatever. Keep yourself a handy image library so your brain sees some visual textures to add while you’re writing description.
Not only will it give you added imagery, it’ll probably boost your excitement.
Then NaNo on! (Or write, whatever you’re doing).
Have you written character bios? What are your rules? Anything you would add? Anything else helpful you do while prepping to write a story whether for NaNo or otherwise?