For me, stories come from characters. Whilst I will often begin with the vaguest idea for a story, it will not begin to take its fullest shape until I have an understanding of the characters who inhabit it. Just like we change the world around us, simply by moving through it, the same is true for the world of stories. A story that is nothing but twisting, snaking plot reads as thin, unsatisfying. That is because, ultimately we read stories in order to allow us an insight into the minds of others.

As a new writer, characters were tough for me. They felt…unreal. I mean, obviously they were unreal because – hello – fiction! But when a character is truly working well, it should feel to us that we know them, that we could imagine them walking in through our front door, sitting down with us for dinner. Elizabeth Bennet. Samwise Gamgee. These were not two dimensional word drawings to me. They were people. And yet, creating that seemed beyond me.

So, I did what I always do whenever a problem hits. I research. I read. I dig. There are some wonderful books out there on developing characters. I personally loved ‘Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint’ by Nancy Kress, and the below is my adapted version of the character biography checklist suggested within it. It’s been 7 years and now I would not even consider writing a book without first figuring out just who my characters are. And this checklist is critical to that.

So I’m sharing it with you. Because I love to read wonderful books. And if this can help any budding authors to write those wonderful books for me, then I will be an extremely happy writer! Use what you like, ignore what you don’t, add in the bits I’ve forgotten.

And enjoy! Then write…

 

 BILLY BOB DOODAD
AGE
KNOWN AS
BIRTHDATE
PLACE OF BIRTH
HEIGHT
BUILD
EYE COLOUR
RESEMBLES
HAIR COLOUR
HAIR STYLE
DISTINGUISHING MARKS
APPEARANCE
FATHER’S NAME
FATHER’S AGE
FATHER’S OCCUPATION
STATUS
MOTHER’S NAME
MOTHER’S AGE
MOTHER’S OCCUPATION
STATUS
ETHNICITY
RELIGION
CURRENT ADDRESS
                                  OWNED?
                         DESCRIPTION
                                       VALUE
            OTHER OCCUPANTS
OCCUPATION
EMPLOYER
ANNUAL SALARY
RELEVANT PAST JOBS
E-MAIL
EDUCATION
MARITAL STATUS
CHILDREN
MEDICAL RECORD
POLICE RECORD
PEOPLE FOUND WITH
ORGANISATION MEMBERSHIP
DRESS
GROOMING
SPEECH
ACCENT
VOICE
FAVOURITE PHRASE
SWEARING
POSTURE
GESTURES
HABITS
             SMOKER?
             DRINKER?
                 DRUGS?
MONEY
VEHICLE
LEISURE
                 SPORTS
                   MUSIC
              READING
                  DANCE
            THEATRES
                MOVIES
          OUTDOORS
         GOING OUT
       GOOD FOOD
           SHOPPING
HOME
               WHERE DOES C LIVE?
    WHERE WOULD C PREFER?
PETS
            WHY DID C GET THEM?
                    HOW IMPORTANT
RELATIONSHIP W/PARENTS
                   THEIR RELATIONSHIP
RELATIONSHIP W/SPOUSE

HOW DID THEY MEET?

RELATIONSHIP W/ SIBLINGS
RELATIONSHIP W/ OPP SEX
RELATIONSHIP W/NEIGHBOURS
RELATIONSHIP W/FRIENDS
RELATIONSHIP W/>SUCCESSFUL
RELATIONSHIP W/<SUCCESSFUL
COMPETITORS @ WORK
RELATIONSHIP W/COLLEAGUES
THOSE WHO ANGER C
THOSE WHO HELP C
THOSE WHO ASK FOR HELP
WAKING UP
                                         NEXT TO
                                               TIME
                               WHAT WAKES C

HOW DOES SHE SLEEP?

                                       ATTITUDE
                                     BREAKFAST
              ACTIVITY IN BREAKFAST
DRESSING
                         TIME CONSUMING?
WORK
                                         TRAVEL
                                  ANTICIPATE
                                             SKILL
                            PREFER DIFF JOB

DAILY JOB

DINNER
                             WHO PREPS IT?
                                WITH WHOM?
                                          WHAT?
                                         ENJOY?
                                    ACTIVITY?
                               WHO CLEANS?
EVENING
                          TYPICAL EVENING
                                           WHERE
                                   WITH WHOM
                                          ENJOY?
                   PREFERRED ACTIVITY
                                  ATMOSPHERE
BEDTIME
                                              TIME
                                  WITH WHOM
                                    EXCEPTIONS
                      STRAIGHT TO SLEEP
                                          DREAMS
EARLIEST MEMORY
WHAT WOULD C DO IF RICH
STATED DREAM
REALLY LONG FOR
GREATEST FEAR
GREATEST LOVE
WILLING TO DIE FOR
RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
                         PURPOSE OF LIFE
                                      AFTERLIFE
WHAT DOES C SPEND TIME ON
HOW WOULD C DESCRIBE SELF?
CHARACTER IN SINGLE WORD
  WOULD CHARACTER AGREE?
NEED TO OVERCOME?
HOW CAN THEY OVERCOME IT?
PSYCHOLOGICAL NOTES

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