My first post, so my apologies in advance if I'm breaking any rules I don't know about... Just curious how many of you write biographies for your characters before you start the actual story? I'm in the process of turning a script I wrote into a novel and, now that I'm no longer beholden to a certain format, I find myself wanting to explore the characters' pasts, maybe understand just how they got to this point in their lives. Ironically, the supporting cast has been a lot easier to do than the main character. Your thoughts?

I'd like to attach one of the bios if I may. It's been a while since I've written prose, and I'm wondering if maybe the bio warrants its own chapter in the novel? I kind of like where it's heading...

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I did a backstory in a questionnaire type format for my first book and maybe my second, but I haven't done it since. I'm an impatient writer though. I also like to discover my characters as I write, but having said that, I think that since most of us are visual learners, writing an advance backstory on your main characters might solidfy them in your brain and help when it comes time to writing them. You won't have to think quite as hard about what makes them tick. You can simply write. If you have the patience for plotting and characterizations beforehand, I think that is probably a solid idea.
Hallie Ephron has an excellent format for building your characters in her book How to Write & Sell Your Mystery Novel. I taker a different tack. Once a week I pick one of my characters and write a short story that has nothing to do with the main plot, but sharpens the backstory in my mind. I'm by no means and expert.
I never do. In the Akitada series, of course, I know my man by now. In the stand-alones I have started with young people (a sort of tabula rasa) and have events shape and reveal their character.
Interesting timing, at least from my perspective. My longer pieces have all been first person, so I didn't worry too much about detailed character bios. I did brief sketches of everyone new to the story, but since I was working on a series, the continuing characters were already well formed in my head.

Last week I started to work on my first attempt at a multiple POV story, and decided to do at least brief bios of the major players. I find they're growing by the day, and I realized the other day that I have a much more complex story on my hands than I anticipated, because I'm seeing different interrelations between characters, thanks to the bios.

So I'd have to say I'm deciding they're more important than I might have said a few months ago. I had well defined characters by the time I was finished with a first person story, just by virtue of having lived with them for so long. It's just now occurring to me the creation of the story itself might have been a lot easier had I done some of this background work first.

Of course, I've also seen a seven page questionnaire that someone said should be filled out for each character. That's just crazy talk.
I do character bios. The one I use is a sort of cv where it asks questions and I answer them. The fun part is filling it in without really thinking too much about it. The answers that come out surprise even me. Really puts your head in another place. Stuff comes out that I may never use, but it's there, still coloring the character. New things still come out as you write, but it's good to have a bit of backstory to cull from.
I think you hit the nail on the head - they're just fun to write, which is/should be the reason we're all writing in the first place. I've found that it's taken some of the intimidation-of-the-blank-page factor away, an odd way to trick myself into writing ("Well, it's not really part of the STORY. I'm just writing this for exercise.") Thanks to everybody for their input.

P.S. So would anybody be interested in reading/buying a book co-starring Eddie Texas in the next couple years?
For most of my characters I only ask three questions and that's enough to get me started, but for the three that count (1. protagonist/detective/lead, 2. antagonist/killer/villain, 3. the victim) I need a bit more.

The three questions I ask are:
what does this character want?
who is standing in his/her way? and
what's the dominant emotional/psychological state?

That's generally enough to get the story going. But the main trio need a thorough work-over before I start. I think it has to do a lot with the type of story I'm writing. Ideas based stories and action based stories, in my opinion, need less thorough characterisation than character based stories or psychological thrillers.

Hey but that's just my method. Whatever works right?
I tend to work on my characterisation and the plot as I'm writing, although it must be said, that if I get an idea for a new project, whether as part of one of my intentional series or a stand-alone, or even my comedy Holmesian stage plays, and I don't wish to start typing away on my PC, I sometimes have a notebook and pen at hand, then as the thoughts develop, I do build a brief 'profile' idea of certain characters, as well as trying to get a feel for how the actual storyline may take me, or where I take the storyline!

Personally, I think that most readers develop their own perspective of the characters in a story, and no two readers will picture the 'hero' or protagonists in the same way, no matter how explicitly they're described in the story; however, that's not to say it isn't a bad thing to describe your character fully, whether for the benefit of the novel, or for your own vision. I know that I often give a detailed explanation of a character, 'warts an' all!'
For my main charactersI do a character sheet listing all their skills, advantages, disadvantages, quirks, possesions, and physical apearence. I use a GURPS role playing Game character sheet because it has everything right on 1 or 2 pages. I started out using paper sheets but have since bought a computer program that I can fill in theinformation and it prints out the info in a readable form. This also helps me learn and remember my characters better than any other method I've used.

G W Pickle
I don't really work up a bio on my characters, but so I can keep it all straight, I do use index cards to write down items like hair color, eye color, size, maybe something special. This helps me latter when I got to say someones cold ... eyes stared at me. I always double check the color and, most times, am glad I do. Same thing with weight. A 6'8", 250lb guy or gal getting on a boat is going to have more of an affect than a 120lb, 5'5" woman. I find the index cards helpful, especially as I got into my sequel. I have one of those large white ceiling tiles nailed to the wall behind my computer and all the cards are pinned to it, so all I have to do is stretch my neck to double check my facts. Not a bio, but the next best thing and brief, too.

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