Character bios can be an essential part of writing your character. There is no story without a character, just as there is no character without a character bio.
Every writer needs some semblance of a bio before they can start writing because it is the only way to truly know who your character is. Without one, it’s harder to feel their existence as something tangible.
The best way to think of a character bio is as it being their passport. A certificate of identity to give them life and authenticity. It’s an official record of them, something to prove their existence on paper.
Characters are built through their bios. They start out as non-existent or simply ideas in the head, but through the process characters become layered. They become real.
In this article, we’ll highlight the key tips to creating your own character bio. We’ll provide the essential information on building a bio that both births a character and helps establish the story.
It might often feel like extraneous work, but writing a character bio can be the difference between a two-dimensional functional character and a rich, layered one.
Table of Contents
- The Writing Style of Character Bios
- Voice of a Character Bio
- 1. Outline The Basics Of Your Character(s)
- 2. Add Life To a Character
- 3. Add Color To a Character
- 4. Immersion in a Character Bio
- The Character’s Purpose
- How Character Bios Help Writers
- Why A Character Bio Is Important To The Writer And The Story
- An Acronym To Help:
The Writing Style of Character Bios
Character bios can be created in multiple ways. There is no set way. Ultimately, they must be crafted in the best way for the writer. And most importantly, they need to be accessible and easy to understand.
Some ways of creating a character bio include…
- On a blank document: Probably the most common way. This is easy to execute, follow and allows for you to let rip with words. Just fill a document with as many words as you can about your character. Let it all spill out, without limitations.
- On PowerPoint: This allows a character bio to become more like a character portfolio. PowerPoint allows both text and images to be added, which gives a visual dimension to the character. It’s also easy to access and one can select what slide is needed for certain writing times.
- On a Spreadsheet: Establishes a critical perspective, as the writer will be dissecting and labelling each aspect that makes up the character.
- In a Notebook: Having a hard copy character bio makes it easier to access when writing on a laptop. This way multiple tabs aren’t open. It can help you not only literally separate out your character bio from your other writing but mentally too, allowing you to work on your character bio and feed in its details to the wider document.
- On Post-Its: Easier to add new details to a character, and have them around you when writing.
All of these different styles have their own benefits due to their form. PowerPoint is arguably the best way as it lays out each aspect of the character clearly, and encourages the visual side of the character too. This is ultimately what character bios are best for, visualizing your character.
Voice of a Character Bio
Another feature of the style of writing a character bio is what personal tense to use. Both First or Third person could be used. And using either of these styles when writing a character bio can have a different meaning…
- First Person: This suggests that the writer is the character, so it becomes more personal and intimate. However, it also makes it harder for the writer to view themselves just as a writer if they are the character, as the lines could become blurred, and confusing when dealing with multiple characters.
- Third Person: This provides a more analytical character bio as the writer is shaping who/what they want the character to be, so it is somewhat easier to access them as a character. However, it can distance the writer, so they are less involved in the world they are creating, as they are on the outside looking in.
Both styles of voice have their pros and cons, but both do formulate solid character bios that will allow the characters to come to life. Some writers may prefer a more immersive approach, some may relish a more objective, analytical approach. But both allow the writer to sit with their characters and let them spill out onto the page.
Finding the voice to write in for your character bio is one thing, but what are the key elements to tackle when writing your character bio? Let’s take a look…
1. Outline The Basics Of Your Character(s)
The starting point of a character bio is to determine the basics of the character(s). Starting the character bio with the basics is essential, it’s like laying the foundation for a house. Without the foundation it becomes unstable. The same goes for character. If you don’t know your character solidly, then the story will fall apart.
- Name – Obviously, the major starting point. It is how your character will be known and in many ways, it defines them. So, the name has to represent who they are. And a distinctive yet believable name is always the best bet, particularly when it comes to main characters.
- Physical appearance. What they look like is obviously important for reading through and remembering the characters but also for aspects of production like casting.
- Personality traits. How does their conflict manifest? What are they like? What kind of figure do they cut within the action?
- Family. What are their relationships like? How have these relationships shaped them into who they are?
- Where the character is from. What is their background? How does this manifest, for example, in their accent, in their outlook and in their character arc in general?
- Where the character lives. What is the context they live within? And most importantly, how does this shape their character arc and the story overall?
- Career. What do they do for a living? Whether important to the story or not, their job and how they spend their daily life is important to understand.
When determining the basics what needs to be apparent is the character’s relatability. Their personality traits, past, relationships and context help to provide relatability, giving the audience an insight into the character and an opportunity to connect with them. Without this, the story is harder to find a way into.
2. Add Life To a Character
After determining the basics of a character in their bio, the next step is to go more in-depth. This stage allows a writer to establish a character’s goals, flaws, and quirks. It is a character’s goals and flaws that make the story because this it almost always what the plot revolves/evolves around, particularly as it pertains to the protagonist.
What to add to develop a character bio…
- The character’s wants and needs.
- Their niches and quirks.
- What are their goals?
- What are their flaws and foibles?
By being thorough at this stage, the character is getting more and more real. They start to take their first steps. Every minor detail that may seem unnecessary e.g., a character’s minor behavioural ticks, is vital to a character bio.
For example, by knowing some small detail about a quirk of behaviour, a character’s state of mind, background, self-esteem and sense of self can all be determined.
It is these intricate features that not only bring life to a character bio but also improve the narrative. Each detail of the character works synchronously with the story as a way to build on the plot. But it also ensures each character’s reaction fits the plot and explains who they are.
3. Add Color To a Character
Adding color acts as a double meaning in this instance. The literal meaning is to choose colors that can be associated with the characters (through clothes, for example) to match their personality/moods.
It’s this meaning that aids in furthering the character bio as the colors chosen can represent who the character is and what they will become. Breaking Bad is perhaps the greatest example of this. Throughout the series, the colors are used to represent the characters’ shifting motivations.
Color also carries the meaning of making a character real. Adding color as visualizing them, how they walk, how they talk, how they interact. What is it that makes them real? That is the next step of writing a character bio.
“I demand the right to be them, I demand the right to think them.” – Quentin Tarantino
To add color the writer has to completely submerse themselves into the characterisation- every choice the writer makes regarding the character, particularly in relation to visuals needs to weave into narrative and characterisation.
The goal of the character bio is to make a character real. And the only way to make a character real is for the writer to become one with the characterisation. This means looking into and focusing on aspects that seem unimportant or useless.
A character bio needs to act like an extension of the writer’s self, drawing from themselves and their real life in general. It is a part of them but it’s not them. By adding color the writer is able to work multidimensionally between building the character and partially being the character.
There needs to be the ability to move between perceiving how the character functions as a person, whilst disconnecting in order to look at the big picture of crafting the story.
4. Immersion in a Character Bio
Following on from adding color to a character bio, and the necessity to work multidimensionally, is immersion. To become immersed in a character bio means the ability to view yourself as a writer whilst also having the perspective of a character.
The writer’s voice needs to become the character’s too.
Exercises for the writer’s voice to become the character’s include…
- Write a journal/diary entry as the character: This allows the writer to directly access the character’s thoughts and behaviour.
- Write a letter from the character to another, or even to the writer: This technique encourages two different styles, one being for the writer to become the character, and the other being the writer accessing the character’s voice whilst being aware of themselves as a writer.
- Carry out an interview with the character: By doing this the writer is able to concurrently carry the role of the writer as well as the character.
- Make a specific list about your character’s likes and dislikes – including, for example, everything from their favorite color to their favorite food to their favorite pastimes.
These exercises are almost a form of method writing, getting into the character’s headspace and indulging in them as if they were real. Again, some of these details may seem unnecessarily specific, but they might help in building a convincing and realistic vision of your character.
The Character’s Purpose
The character’s purpose is what needs to shine through the bio as it is that which will be explored and built on throughout the narrative itself. The writer being able to find the character’s voice within making a character bio helps to make the character as close to real as possible.
By being clear and pliable, the character bio guarantees that even if the story alters as it is created, the core of the character(s) can remain the same. And this core is the character’s purpose. This is what’s driving them through the story and consequently, particularly in relation to the protagonist, driving the story itself.
You might find your character’s purpose when writing the bio, or you might have it already before the bio. Either way, a key aim of writing a character bio should be to understand what that character’s purpose and function is within the story as a whole.
Without purpose, the character could seem two-dimensional or unnecessary, no matter how fleshed out in specific detail they are.
How Character Bios Help Writers
Character bios are priceless to a writer. They allow writers to get to know their character(s) much as they would a person in real life. If a character doesn’t feel real and relatable then the audience or screenplay reader will struggle to connect with the story.
They help the writer to conceptualise all that exists in their head. Before creating a character bio, a character is simply a writer’s thoughts of a person. But once the bio is on paper those thoughts start the process of transforming into a fully-formed person.
- A character bio can also help writers to establish the arc that characters will go on throughout the narrative.
- It acts as a blueprint. If a writer loses track of their character(s) and their arc, the bio is there to act as the heart of a character.
- It is what births and maintains the character’s existence.
Character bios help provide security for the writer as they can map out the story through the eyes of the character(s). This means that no matter what happens in the writing process the bio is always there to refer to.
Why A Character Bio Is Important To The Writer And The Story
The ability to get inside a character’s head is essential to a successful narrative, as often the audience perceives and responds to the story through their relationship to the characters.
Character arcs are a key part of the narrative or are the narrative itself, and a crucial way to track an arc’s success is with the bio. It is the character’s flaws that are tied up with the story and the flaw that needs to be resolved or handled by the story’s end.
A bio is what fleshes out characters, making them feel human. They become a part of the world you are creating, both feeding into and feeding off the depth you are gradually building.
They can also be important to both the writer and the story for continuity reasons.
- Change happens in a story, both in the actual narrative evolution and redrafts.
- So, for a bio to act as a continuity guide provides assurance that characters won’t become debased.
- They will retain their strengths as independent characters whilst ensuring the story itself doesn’t fall flat.
Connection is what a character bio provides. They allow the writer to establish the traits of that character that an audience can connect/relate/empathise with. Every character needs to have a perspective on humanity whether it be a positive or negative one. And crafting a bio helps identify what this perspective looks like.
An Acronym To Help:
As discussed, there are multiple ways to write a character bio, but it must be…
So, think of CREATE when creating a character bio, and you’ll be in the best place possible to write one.
A character bio is a tool to helping you understand your character and what shapes them. It brings a character to life on the page. And it is this aliveness that feeds the life of the story.
Bios are pivotal to both the writer and story as they are the glue that holds it all together, whilst ensuring organisation and coherence for the story and writing process.
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This article was written by Libby Laycock and edited by IS Staff.
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4 thoughts on “How Do You Write A Character Bio? The Road to GREAT Characterisation”
Dealing with characters that are 98% Native American, I knew from the start in writing the book, I needed to distinguish the characters.Thank you for the information it was very helpful in going forward with the teleplay.
This article is definitely a good, clear reminder why character matters in driving the plot. If your plot isn’t working, the answer often lies with character; and as painful as it is, that means you have to step back from the direct script writing and do more research. That’s what this article has made me do. Thanks.
Thanks Angela, glad we could help!