Creating a Story Bible: Characters

Characters are the life and soul of your novel. Without them, you have nothing. A lot of writers take hefty notes on their main characters, including their backgrounds, their personalities, their appearances, and their interests or dislikes. I know some people who have gone so far as to make lists of characters their main characters have slept with in their entire lives.

I'd consider paying money to look inside one of those story bibles.

Storm Surge by RJ Blain - Small No TitleThere are a few things I would like to mention. I do not take extensive notes on their backgrounds, interests, and dislikes. The image (the cover art for Storm Surge) features Kalen. A lot of what determined how Kalen would appear in the cover art is covered within my story bible. Appearance is the one thing I often know from the very beginning. Appearances do matter, as it will often dictate how characters will react to each other–and how they may feel about themselves. Kalen is a one-armed king who looks far younger than he is. This means he's carrying around quite a big of baggage with him as a result.

I knew a great deal about him long before he became words on a page or art.

That said, a lot of character development happens in the story. Those details get listed in my plotting outline. If I need those specific details, I pick up the book, hunt for the scene, and re-read it. The personalities, interests, dislikes, and ‘history' of a character change as the novel progresses.

For the story bible, I use a legend of traits and descriptions to track characters. Why? This is the information I usually forget. Traits are basic personality stereotypes. This lets me work within the base personality of the character. If that character's personality trait type changes, I cross out the old one and notate in the new one. The removal of a trait allows me to see at a glance how a character has undergone notable evolution in the story line.

I include very brief history notes on the most major characters in my story bible. These are no more than a few sentences, and are events and notations that are referred to frequently.

Character Legend - ReadableIndex II  is the home of my character information, and it has a very humble beginning: The Character Legend.

Please understand that I use a pocket sized moleskine for my journal. I simply can't afford to write out every word of character descriptions while I'm making notations for primary, secondary, and tertiary characters. This is why I created a legend. You need not create a legend if you have the space for the details.

Abbreviation – Description

Basics: M – Male, F – Female, A# – Age#(At start of series)

H(C) – Hair (Color): Br – Brown, Bl – Black, Bd – Blond, Rd – Red, L – Long, S – Short, M – Medium. Example: H(Br-L)

E(C) – Eye (Color): Bl – Blue, LBL – Light Blue, H – Hazel, LB – Light Brown, DB – Dark Brown, GR – Green. Example: E(Bl)

P(T) – Personality (Trait): A- Aggressive, T – Timid, I – Intellectual, C – Calm, Im – Impulsive, S – Systematic, Ta – Tactician, E – Empathic, G – Greedy, K – Kind, P – Protective. Example: P(A,Im,G)

AL(T) – Alignment (Type): C – Chaotic, N – Neutral, L – Lawful

BM(N) – Bondmate (Name(s))

Ho(Name) – Horses (Name(s))

BD(S/Y) – Birthday (Season/Year)

name = deceased

For each character, I fill out the relevant information. The P(T) stuff is particularly useful, as it provides an instant guideline on their thought process. Contradictions are allowed, because people are contradictory. You can have an impulsive tactician. You can have a impulsive intellectual too. You can even have someone who is both timid and aggressive! These aren't all personality types, but this list is what works for me.

If the field isn't applicable, I don't use it.

The idea here is that I can get a lot of important information written out about characters without taking up much space. If I forget what a notation means, I can look it up in the legend. I've worked enough with this legend I don't need to refer to it often. So, that next time I can't remember if a horse has a certain color, I can look it up. (I will just write in the color type of the horse in the spot, though if it doesn't match an entry in the legend.)

There are several ways I group characters, which include:

Familial grouping: If I have a couple with a lot of children, I list the children altogether.

Professional grouping: Anytime I have a group of people, such as guards, I will list them together in one section

Religious grouping: I divide religious people into their ranks more often than not. Lets me find them easier.

Major and Major Secondary Characters: These are characters who deserve their own page.

Believe it or not, the character section of the journal is the easiest for me. It's tangibles that are not likely to change.

That said, one of my characters is currently mocking me because he did go and change some things on me. That said, it was only temporarily, and that notation belongs in my Outline and not my Story Bible.

As an aside, I just received the journals that will be used for my series outline. I will be sharing the methodology of creating a Complete Outline once I have finished the edits on Storm without End.

That really is all there is to it. It's much simpler than my world building information.

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Development Diary Week 6 | liamsmithinteractive says June 30, 2016

[…] (2013) Creating a story bible: Characters. Available at: http://www.rjblain.com/2013/01/creating-a-story-bible-characters/ (Accessed: 18 May […]

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