Keeping a character bible is the only way I can truly know my characters.

thumbnail_b2918e19018fad4042214c815df298c6Thriller and suspense writer, Conrad Williams, ran a fabulous class on character building during The Art of Writing this June. It was especially helpful for me because my two protagonists are American and, being Australian, it’s not easy to really know them instinctively, intuitively, and innately.

Enter the Character Bible.

Character defines us, helps us understand motive and convinces and persuades our readers. If we don’t know our protagonists deeply, the story becomes unbelievable and flawed. Character is what observers see in us. And it’s one of the first things a literary agent or publisher will look for in your manuscript – believable characters that respond and react according to their character.

Here is a quick checklist that doesn’t focus on the obvious. Do you know the answers to ALL these questions? How well do you know your character?

  • What kind of house do they live in?thumbnail_432374eeb9e5095840cabc53e59d2c5c
  • What kind of car do they drive?
  • Are they overweight or underweight or fitness freaks or lazy?
  • What kind of food do they like?
  • Kids? Strict? Easy going?
  • Their key relationships are with? (Very important because it can help with plot)
  • Education?
  • Work history?
  • Hobbies?
  • Birthday? How would they like to celebrate? How do they celebrate?
  • Special present they give? Like to receive?
  • Religion?
  • Profession?

thumbnail_art-of-writing-affirmation-03I didn’t know the answers to a lot of these questions and frankly, as I work through my new book, I am still looking for the answers to these questions (watch out American friends, I’ll be emailing you with questions). Unless my publisher advises me to make this protagonist couple Australian for marketing purposes, they will remain American. Till then, I’ll continue to track down a good understanding of them.

Do you have any other character traits to add to this list? Would love to hear your thoughts!

DESC: Agriturismo Corsignano ARTICLE NAME: USAGE: PRESS USAGE: 1st published DATE: TERRITORY: Australia and its territories ONLY PUBLICATION: MAGAZINE © 2009 Vincent L Long (PRESS USAGE: 90 days from date of first publication date ONLY) NB: Images may not be stored digitally, either in original format OR as a copy and must be removed from publisher’s archive immediately after publication. Image files may not be placed into publisher’s stock libraries or sublicensed or onsold to any third party libraries and are supplied for one time editorial use ONLY. Reproduction fees must be agreed with Vincent L Long BEFORE USE. Usage Rights subject to FULL payment of relevant invoice(s) MANDATORY ACCREDITATION MUST READ: © Vincent L Long

3 thoughts on “Keeping a character bible is the only way I can truly know my characters.

  • David Picken

    Hi Lisa

    My apologies – off topic – I hope you don’t mind me sending this on the ‘Art’ blog. Out of place, of course, but Twitter is too restrictive for my reply to your ‘Empty Nest’ post on Instagram. First, the photograph – what a hauntingly beautiful shot? Definitely a heart string tugger – so you didn’t help yourself ease the pain with that one!! Your words had me reaching immediately for my copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. I’m sure you are familiar with it. He has a piece ‘On Children’. I will not attempt to repeat it in full, but just recount a small part – ‘For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.’

    Our younger daughter and her family moved to Sydney last week. So that’s two grandchildren there and two in Canberra now. So I’m very much in tune with how you are feeling just now.

    Off on holiday on Saturday. 8 weeks in Europe. Sadly, not Italy this time.

    By the way, what will your daughter be ‘reading’ at Uni? As for location, I’m secretly hoping – me being mischievous again – that it will be somewhere north-ish so that she develops a nice regional accent to her English – like me!!

    Best wishes

    • mm

      Lisa Clifford

      Hi Dave,
      That’s so kind of you to reach out to me about my Instagram post. You’re right that the photo DOES make it harder, but it just fits perfectly with how I’m feeling. It reminds me of how much she’ll see and experience on her own. As hard as it is for me, I know it’ll make her happy and give her valuable experience on her own. Really I’m utterly thrilled for her.
      What a wonderful quote by Khalil Gibran, thank you for sharing that. It’s always hard when they leave the nest. I know I’m far from the only one experiencing this, my own mum went through it with me!
      It would be interesting to see her come back with an adopted accent.
      All the best,

    • mm

      Lisa Clifford

      Have a fabulous time David!
      You’re probably in Europe now. I am feeling your pain and just talked to another friend whose son and family have just moved to Hong Kong. I don’t think i’ts talked about enough, this pain as our kids move on and lead the lives we’ve prepared them to live.
      Natalia is reading Anthropology and International Relations. So I guess more training for her to leave us!!!
      Thanks for your Kahlil Gibran quote. I have my mother’s old copy and will look up the chapter on children. So sweet of you!
      Ciao for now,

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