Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Character Bible


I'm pretty good at the thirty second answer. That's when my husband asks me a question and it takes me thirty seconds to respond with something like, "What was that again?" I always have a lot on my mind--whether it's planning the next chapter in my novel, the next cub scout den meeting, or the next birthday celebration. My mind can only store so much information before I go into overload and forget really important things like feeding my children.

One of the best tools I've found for remembering stuff in my novel is the character bible. This is a place where you keep details about each character in your book. Without my character bible, I find myself forgetting things like a character's age or occupation.

I searched all over the Internet for ideas from other authors about how to make a character bible and found . . . almost nothing. If you have a character bible, I'd love to hear how you've done yours. Here's how I made the character bible for my latest project:

First, I compiled a generic list of questions I need to answer about each character. These questions fall into several catagories:

Physical Description: this includes things like the character's age, height, hair color, clothing styles, etc.

Family Background: It's important to have a sense of the character's family background. It makes her seem more realistic, instead of something I created out of a vacuum.

Occupation: This section includes details about career, office environment, and degrees.

I don't answer all the questions for all the characters. They're just there to fill in as I go along. My character bible also includes additional information that can't be put in a question-and-answer format:

Backstory: This section can include just about anything that may find its way into the plot--scandals, traumas from childhood, dating history, etc.

Secrets: Most characters have secrets that are fun to reveal a little at a time over the course of the novel or, sometimes, mostly at the end.

Character Arc: The character arc is what happens to the inside of the character over the course of the story. In the beginning, the character will have certain beliefs and values. The incidents in the novel will cause the character to react and change their beliefs and values. It's good to map this out, so your characters aren't just bouncing around, learning nothing.

Pictures: I like to add pictures of people who look like my characters. I do this the low-tech way--printing them straight off the Internet, cutting them out, and stapling them to my questionaires.

Maps: Sometimes it helps me to draw maps of a character's home or workplace. I've also drawn maps of dining room tables, so I can keep track of who's sitting where.

As I write,  I add more and more details to each characters' pages.

I have kept my character bible online, in a folder, and in a bound notebook. This time around, I'm using a three-ring binder.

4 comments:

  1. I got some great advice from author Terri Ferran: follow the rule of three. Three strengths, three weaknesses, three fears, three wishes. What is the character's most prized possession? What would he or she do if they saw a spider? You won't need all this information for every character, and a lot of it will never show up a novel, but it will help you know your characters better. Terri has a beautiful table for her work in progress. I have a bunch of phrases in a word doc.

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    1. I love the idea of following the rule of 3. I'll have to check out Terri's ideas. Thanks for commenting, Amanda.

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  2. I love this idea! I am always searching through pages and pages of story to find someone's last name that I can't remember suddenly, or what color eyes I'd given them two months ago, or some minor character's name even that pops up in another book. This will definitely be something I use from now on. Thanks so much for the idea.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your experience. It would help me a lot in my writing endeavor.

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