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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My pre-draft process has two parts, outlining the story and writing character bios. These bios aren’t that in-depth: they cover age, appearance, birthplace, relationship history, their attitudes and impressions of the other characters in the book at various points, and their main character arc. I.e. how they’ve changed at the end of the story.

The feedback I’ve had from my beta readers for my first two books is that my characters are generally believable, and interesting, but in early drafts they often end up being similar to each other—in voice, mannerisms, etc.

Have others had this feedback? What did you do to address it? How deep do people go with the bios before writing, or do they not do them at all?
 

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I'm an in-depth outliner (I know lots of people hate writing synos, but I love it and do it first), but I shudder at the thought of a character bio or interview. For one, I don't know most of those things until I've started writing.

That being said, I do need to know the characters' GMC (goals, motivations, conflict) before I can get too far.
 

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I write a bio but it's not terribly in depth, and I always mean to do description, especially for the characters that carry from one book to the next in a series, but I have yet to do that like I should. I tend to write down some detail about them, absorb it subconsciously, and then it comes out when I least expect it to show up on the page. One of the things that has helped me is picking out an actor on IMDB that fits what I'm going for, then I have a physical description to go with anytime I need it, because I can just go to IMDB and look them up.

The last time I started a series I was still pretty new, so when my next series starts later this year, I'm planning on doing more of this leg work. I've already started, in fact, so this is a good reminder.
 

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I should add that I do a character bio once the book is published so I'll have an easily accessible "bible" that I can come back to when writing later books in the series.

But to me, writing the book is how I get to know the character. If I had to write out their bio before I wrote the book, I'd be staring at the blank page.
 
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I actually use a World of Darkness mortal character sheet. because I'm a geek and they are useful.

A character sheet serves as shorthand for me throughout the book to make sure that characters don't spontaneously spout skills or abilities they shouldn't have. Really useful when dealing with supernatural characters, but equally valuable when dealing with normal humans. For example, my protagonist in A Game of Blood has no "ranks" in politics. So whenever he was in a situation where he had to navigate the politics of his local government he fumbled around and got frustrated. He has an average Intelligence score but a high Wits score, so he's good at thinking on his feet but sometimes draws the wrong conclusions when confronted with a lot of complicated data. In one scene where a person with a doctorate in engineering is trying to explain something to Mitch, I referenced my character sheet to determine how much of it he would actually be able to understand.

I've found it very good to help avoid the Mary Sue type characters that always seem to be able to do everything and anything exactly when they need to. I look at the sheet and say "Sorry, buddy. You can't do that. You're going to have to get out of this mess I created the hard way." ::) ;D
 

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I create a back story for the major characters. A lot of it is just in my head, but in a few cases -- usually when something didn't seem right or coherent -- I've resorted to writing it all down and the revising it, as though it were a story in its own right. I don't think I'd be able to create consistent/believable characters if I didn't do this kind of thing.

I like Julie's idea of using character sheets. It sounds like a more systematic and comprehensive approach than what I've been doing so far. Are those sheets available online, Julie?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
RobertJCrane said:
I write a bio but it's not terribly in depth, and I always mean to do description, especially for the characters that carry from one book to the next in a series, but I have yet to do that like I should.
Uh, hi. Are you me? :)

Bards and Sages (Julie) said:
I actually use a World of Darkness mortal character sheet. because I'm a geek and they are useful.

A character sheet serves as shorthand for me throughout the book to make sure that characters don't spontaneously spout skills or abilities they shouldn't have. Really useful when dealing with supernatural characters, but equally valuable when dealing with normal humans. For example, my protagonist in A Game of Blood has no "ranks" in politics. So whenever he was in a situation where he had to navigate the politics of his local government he fumbled around and got frustrated. He has an average Intelligence score but a high Wits score, so he's good at thinking on his feet but sometimes draws the wrong conclusions when confronted with a lot of complicated data. In one scene where a person with a doctorate in engineering is trying to explain something to Mitch, I referenced my character sheet to determine how much of it he would actually be able to understand.

I've found it very good to help avoid the Mary Sue type characters that always seem to be able to do everything and anything exactly when they need to. I look at the sheet and say "Sorry, buddy. You can't do that. You're going to have to get out of this mess I created the hard way." ::) ;D
This.... I have no words. It's spectacular. You're essentially writing a novel by playing D&D. That's awesome.
 

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Dan Harris said:
Uh, hi. Are you me? :)
If so, it would appear by your avatar I just got a whole lot better looking. 8) Thinner, too.

I just started a new file for craft ideas, and Julie's post went right on top. That's awesome, and a great reminder about character limitations.
 
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Becca Mills said:
I create a back story for the major characters. A lot of it is just in my head, but in a few cases -- usually when something didn't seem right or coherent -- I've resorted to writing it all down and the revising it, as though it were a story in its own right. I don't think I'd be able to create consistent/believable characters if I didn't do this kind of thing.

I like *****'s idea of using character sheets. It sounds like a more systematic and comprehensive approach than what I've been doing so far. Are those sheets available online, *****?
Here's an example of one. It's an older version but would serve the general purpose. It's more useful when you have a strong idea what the ranks mean. In general 2 is consider the "universal average." Three dots means someone is good at something. Four dots is exceptional. Five dots are for people who are the best of the best. Anything beyond 5 is normally reserves for supernatural creatures. But you can assign your own values based on the needs of what you are doing.
 
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Dan Harris said:
Uh, hi. Are you me? :)

This.... I have no words. It's spectacular. You're essentially writing a novel by playing D&D. That's awesome.
Unfortunately for my poor characters, I am a "Lawful Evil" DM. :eek:

I actually tried using D&D character sheets originally, but the concept of "levels" doesn't work well with fiction and D&D is more for caricatures than full-bodied characters. The WOD sheets are much more flexible because you can allot points as you need to or adjust your character based on events in the story.
 

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Bards and Sages (Julie) said:
Here's an example of one. It's an older version but would serve the general purpose. It's more useful when you have a strong idea what the ranks mean. In general 2 is consider the "universal average." Three dots means someone is good at something. Four dots is exceptional. Five dots are for people who are the best of the best. Anything beyond 5 is normally reserves for supernatural creatures. But you can assign your own values based on the needs of what you are doing.
Awesome, thank you! I love that "empathy" and "brawl" have equal weight as character traits. I'm going to enjoy filling this out.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
RobertJCrane said:
If so, it would appear by your avatar I just got a whole lot better looking. 8) Thinner, too.
Ha! Thanks. It's a soft focus photo :)

Bards and Sages (Julie) said:
Here's an example of one. It's an older version but would serve the general purpose. It's more useful when you have a strong idea what the ranks mean. In general 2 is consider the "universal average." Three dots means someone is good at something. Four dots is exceptional. Five dots are for people who are the best of the best. Anything beyond 5 is normally reserves for supernatural creatures. But you can assign your own values based on the needs of what you are doing.
Sweet. I'm totally going to use this, even just for fun. Thanks!
 

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I don't do in depth anything, but when I have a lot characters going around, I start making up note cards like this:

LEVI RIESS
Determined, quiet, angry, internal > fearful of loss
Wants to make a legacy
Athletic, tall, curly hair

BRIANNA
Humble, hard to impress, kind, non-confrontational, fearless
Wants to learn, likes to be helpful
Cute, compared to pixies

ELISE KAVANAGH
Brittle, loyal, chaotic neutral, violent responses, sullen
Want to do better than her parents, live up to father's expectations
Always compared to birds of prey

The reason this is useful to me is that I really, really suck at big casts of characters. I need to know 3-4 attributes that define them as a person, their main internal motivator, and the kind of descriptors I typically use for them. So Brianna might "flit" or "flutter" or be described as "graceful," whereas Elise has fierce stares and she soars when she runs or what have you. Also, if two characters in a manuscript have too many similar descriptors, I'll usually kill one of them off. ;D
 

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Do you write a character sheet so you can keep track of what the people what the people you know are like?

If they all have the same voice, my guess is that your characters are piece of paper to you and don't have any "reality" for you. When you imagine the scenes, can you hear their voices? See them? Do you really know them or are they just devices you made an arbitrary list about?

 

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I love the idea of using a character sheet to keep track of this stuff. As a sometimes-DM, I heartily approve. ;D

Sometimes I do character bios up front, but not usually. There is one character, Ramelan Fujita (The Tyrant Strategy: Revenant Man) whose actions (of sort) shaped the world itself some ninety years before he came to be (it's explained in the novel). So for his predecessor, I had to have an entire bio mapped out, including a timeline.

The irony? I seldom referred to the bio. But it prepped me for the epic scale and gamesmanship of the character's actions. It helped me keep in mind who Fujita is and not so much what he is.

The who -- motive, morality, morale, means -- is way more important than the what.

And yeah, I've learned the hard way that for complicated universes, you really need a canon bible.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
JRTomlin said:
Do you write a character sheet so you can keep track of what the people what the people you know are like?

If they all have the same voice, my guess is that your characters are piece of paper to you and don't have any "reality" for you. When you imagine the scenes, can you hear their voices? See them? Do you really know them or are they just devices you made an arbitrary list about?
I have the bios, and they're definitely real to me. I'm just a bit lazy in getting that across in first drafts, it seems. Dialogue's the main problem: I barrel along writing it pretty fast, without enough care for exactly how the character would say it. When I went back to do my most recent edit of my second book, I looked at all of the internal and spoken dialogue a lot more slowly, saying it in my head in the characters tone of voice, accent, etc. That really helped in making their voices as distinctive as they're supposed to be.
 

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Yes, but I create horrible two-dimensional characters first, with shallow personalities and whatnot, and then haphazardly assemble a terrible excuse for a plot around them, so it kind of has to be that way. If I did it any other way I fear I would end up with something even more terrible peopled with interchangeable caricatures and that would be bad. :)
 
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JRTomlin said:
Do you write a character sheet so you can keep track of what the people what the people you know are like?

If they all have the same voice, my guess is that your characters are piece of paper to you and don't have any "reality" for you. When you imagine the scenes, can you hear their voices? See them? Do you really know them or are they just devices you made an arbitrary list about?
I personally tend to have strong ideas about what my characters look like. As I've said in other threads, I'm also an avid "people watcher" and pay a lot of attention to mannerisms and body movements. The sheets aren't as arbitrary as you would think. The sheets, in fact, prevent me from making arbitrary changes or engaging in God in the Machine antics because I wrote myself into a corner. Particularly when dealing with paranormal entities, it is very easy to just let a character spontaneously develop powers or demonstrate previously unused abilities to "save" a scene (this is one of the reasons I dislike a lot of paranormal YA books. The characters tend to always know just what they need to know when they need to know it, for no good reason).

And for me, I'm a BIG gamer. So those sheets actually mean a lot more to me than just arbitrary dots on a page. I know the mechanics behind the dots, so to speak. So it gives me a strong reminder of a character's actual abilities. For example. if you have a character you describe as being "strong" that may not mean a lot. You get to a scene where the tunnel he was trying to escape through is blocked with a giant boulder. He's a strong character, so he can push the boulder out of the way. You move on. Or I say, he has a strength score of 3. He is strong, but not strong enough. So now he can't just push the boulder out of the way. He needs to figure out another way out of this mess I put him in. It actually forces me to think about the character as if he is a real person. How WILL he get out of this? What are his options?
 

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JRTomlin said:
Do you write a character sheet so you can keep track of what the people what the people you know are like?

If they all have the same voice, my guess is that your characters are piece of paper to you and don't have any "reality" for you. When you imagine the scenes, can you hear their voices? See them? Do you really know them or are they just devices you made an arbitrary list about?
To be fair, you don't have to authentically dictate the behaviors of your friends and family, either. Like it or not, characters are not real people, and lists help some people.
 

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I'm in the "not so much" group. I'll jot down the important points about a character's past or personality, but I like to discover things as I go. The drawback to this is that I spend way too much time lookng back through my MS to see what colour a character's eyes are.
I still don't know what the main character in my urban fantasy series did for a living before he died...I'm hoping it comes up in a future book sometime because I'm curious.
 
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