Developing A Character Biography
I recently examined how a plot outline helps the writing process. The other tool I use at this initial stage is a character biography. This is a basic description of the character, their interaction and traits. This document also helps in the editing process for both the author, independent editor and beta reader. Here are three basic character biographies I developed for my fifth book:

Type: Strong, smart, middle-aged.
* James. Likes him, loans him money, wants to take their relationship further.
* Pincushion man. Avoids him, talks down to him.
Traits: Talks with a Russian accent, dresses well, likes good food.
Strengths: Has a great perception, art/music expert, a good business person.
Limitations: Can’t get over the loss of her husband, unknown health issue.
Background: Born Russia, grew up on a rural farm, has a summer house that James has been to.
Occupation: Buy/sell art and music.
Desires: Make more money, get control of Pincushion man shipping operation.

Type: Average guy, not too bright, middle-aged.
* Pincushion man. Taken prisoner by him, intimidated by him.
* Grace. Met at the bookstore, initially intimidated by her, now at a basic level of respect.
Traits: Has a low opinion of himself, always complaining.
Strengths: Street smart, a good writer, great at getting information out of people, easy to talk to.
Limitations: No money, terrible friends, bad X wife, not good with money.
Background: Lives Seattle in a small house, moved around a lot as a child.
Occupation: Best Buy.
Desires: Write a great book, make enough money to make it through the day.

Pincushion man (At this stage, I do not have a name for this character.)
Type: Greedy, driven, dominating, old.
* James. Wants to get secret from him, treats him as a servant.
* Grace. Does not understand her, cannot relate to her goals.
Traits: Addicted to acupuncture, cheep, appreciates art, arrogant, selfish.
Strengths: Great at organizing, can immediately spot weakness.
Limitations: In poor health, bad at business, cannot relate to others.
Background: Born a long time ago in China, unhealthy.
Occupation: Independently wealthy, shipping.
Desires: Gain as much power and land as possible.

Sub characters require less detail:
Smith Family
Mother: Tara; Fun, open-minded, kind.
Father: Greg; Reserved, easy going, knows baseball.
Daughter: Sarah; Pretty, dresses well.
Dog: Spots.
Relationship: They live next door to James.

Patrick: James’s friend from a baseball game
Julia Rogers: Graces helper
Mr. Crowley: Pincushion man’s butler

Details are missing, including the appearance, but this omission is intentional. At the development stage (before the book is written), we are only concerned about the aspects that directly affect the plot. When the book is written, I copy the details into the character biography for future reference.
From the three main character descriptions, the characters are not friends, but they have commonalities. That type of interaction was dictated by the plot. Friendly characters would have more personal interactions and background. Such as, “James is married to Grace’s brother, Pincushion man.”
The character biography allows the writer to examine at a high level how each character interacts. At this stage, plot experiments can be conducted and major changes made. For example, a character can change gender, occupation or their background.
When the character biography and plot outline have been fully vetted, we can begin writing. At the time when “pincushion man” gets introduced, we have his foundation and can give him a proper name. As the book progresses, we make character additions. For example, James needs to have next-door neighbors. The author then creates the Smith Family. I made a quick biography addition.
When the book is complete, all the characters are captured, and then I use this tool to locate faults. For example, it would be difficult for the reader if the main character, James, had the last name Smith and the neighbors also had the same name.
A character biography requires time, but it is a crucial development tool. This technique makes the plot outline easier to understand, the writing more manageable, and a robust story. During the writing process, the author can focus on creating a great story that flows from one well-defined character to the next.

You’re the best -Bill
December 20, 2018 Updated November 25, 2023

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