I usually don’t use character bios as part of the pre-writing process, but as part of the writing or re-writing process. My story lines are generally pretty floppy and loose when I start out. Then, as the characters face choices, I need to understand why they choose the way they do or behave the way they behave. I need to decide if I need to underpin what they’ve said and done, rewrite it, give it to somebody else, or what.
I was talking about Matt Walton yesterday, so I dug out his character bio. I’m not sure how much of this I wrote when, since I’ve rewritten A DEAD GUY AT THE SUMMERHOUSE several times, but I know some of it was written before the last rewrite.
I won’t post the whole thing, because it’s pages long. Here’s how I start it out:
Dramatic Need: To find out if his son, Andrew, is a Satanic nutcase.
Point of View: Practicality before all. This leads to a certain amount of “situation ethics” and impatience with “vaporings” and imagination.
Change: Softens up some. Learns that the impractical is sometimes more valuable and the improbable sometimes more likely than otherwise.
Attitude: Gruff, though not cruel. Brusque, businesslike. Showing vulnerability and uncertainty are hard on him. Thinks he’s showing affection, but others don’t see it.
Born: 1911 (The book is set in 1968)
How old when story begins: 57
Then I do these, which I won’t bog you down with:
Siblings/relations and relationships:
Personal aspects: (what he looks like)
Life to start of story:
Then my favorite thing: Ten questions I’d like to ask my character. Sometimes I do ten things I KNOW about my character and then ten things I don’t know and would like to ask. I try to answer the questions by crawling into the character’s POV; that most often results in developing a distinct (to me) voice for the character. It’s so exciting when that happens!
Here are a few of Matthew’s:
1. Why are you so crabby with Amelia?
I have no patience with her, if that’s what you mean. She’s never cared about anything but having fun. She brought that good-for-nothing Albert Alaister here and now she stays and snipes at me. Oh, I have a certain amount of compassion for her, at her time of life. She’s the last of her brothers and sisters, her parents are gone, of course, and she has no children of her own. She feels guilty about Alaister, and she’s taking that out on me; I understand that. The point is, I don’t like it.
2. What do you think about having your son at home?
I don’t know what to think about it. He was doing excellent work in the labs, I was told; then he got this bee in his bonnet about chaos or turbulence or whatever it is. Lot of nonsense, it seems to me, and what good is it anyway? What’s the practical use of it? Sounded to me like he took a snit with the other fellows and ran home–that isn’t like Andrew, though, so there must be more to it than that. I like having him around, though. We’re very close, you know.
3. Oh, yeah? Then how can you suspect him of Satanism?
Well… You can be close to someone and still not understand everything about him. He has something on his mind lately, not just work, I mean. I found those notebooks. This chaos business is so bizarre.
4. What do you eat for breakfast?
Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
5. When do you plan to retire?
When I drop dead in the harness or when I’m forced out by hungrier lions.
A DEAD GUY AT THE SUMMERHOUSE or, as I call it for short, Dead Guy, is available in print from independent bookstores through IndieBound and from Amazon in print and for Kindle. The audiobook will be out Real Soon Now. You can also read the first chapter on my Dead Guy page.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Ask your main character ten questions you don’t know the answer to, deep or trivial. If you don’t have a main character yet, pick a name out of the phone book and build a character using those headings I used.