It’s that time of year! The month before Camp NaNoWriMo (Round 2!).
March, June, and October (and sometimes September because I’m always too excited) are for prep. And we’re here!
My usual prep consists of outlining. First identifying the three main acts, then Freytag’s Pyramid, and eventually a chapter-by-chapter outline. Ideally, I have this done before I start writing.
My best writer friends prep a different way – using character bio questionnaires.
I tend to enjoy character-driven stories the most, both in reading and writing. Characters usually jump into my head mostly formed, and I make stories based around those characters. Because of this, I actually need the most help when it comes to plot. (Thus, my detailed chapter outline.)
So while I’d seen various character bios floating around the internet for years, I never truly felt the push to use one until I started co-writing a story with one of those friends. The other friend is an avid D&D player, so character creation (and world building) is paramount.
Needless to say, they had a lot to teach me.
The point of character bios are to help you learn more about your characters (duh) and, use that extra knowledge during your story. This is important because I think people who use character bios religiously tend to fall into 2 categories: those who actually end up writing their stories (aided by the bios) and those who never actually write their story (consistently telling themselves they just need more prep and the bio grows pages while the story document is never created).
Don’t fall into the second category. Don’t do that. Not to your precious story! Don’t be sucked in! It deserves to be told.
Okay, so now that you’ve promised yourself not to fall down the rabbit hole, if you’re anything like me, you’re asking yourself, “why the eff does it matter if the character’s mother was born in June or July?” I’ve found that while not all of the questions are useful, they compound to give you more insight. Typically at least 2 -3 questions, and their respective answers, prompt an event or catalyst felt directly in my story. To me, this is the greatest win. And why character bios can be worthwhile.
Filling one out also means you won’t end up writing an entire story without knowing the main character’s name and solely referring to them as FMC for Female Main Character. (I speak from experience…)
If it’s your first time filling out a character bio, and 40+ questions just seems like too much, here are the five I’ve repeatedly found helpful (from the links above, with a few notes in parenthesis):
- What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting? (This can be great for weaving throughout the story or as a subplot.)
- What about this character will readers like? What will they dislike? (Good to have one of each, at least.)
- If your character was suddenly challenged, would they rather run away or stay and fight? (Does this change based on the challenge presented? How?)
- What kind of person does your character wish he or she could be? What is stopping him or her?
- Does your character think the future is hopeful? Why? (Works for all settings, but especially fantasy.)
All in all, the answer to if questionnaires are worth it is personal. To both the writer and the individual story. Basically, you do you. Just don’t get sucked in and only work on the bio, and don’t do so little character work that you never learn their names.
Do you use character bios? What’s your favorite questions to answer? Let me know!