Real planners, a group I mingle with, but lack complete membership requirements, would have a detailed character description for their full cast, before the story took to page.
I create characters as I go. The few I had defined prior to writing my novel told me I was wrong. Sure their hair was the same color and length, but my assumptions as to their character needed correction. If you try to pigeonhole them they break out, or at least my rebellious crew does.
However, even if they change, recording their profile is a good idea. You’ll maintain consistency and possibly expand on their part of the story. Even if you don’t, it makes them more real, more concrete. That makes writing them easier.
I have a lot of characters, upwards of 30 and will likely end up with 50+. They’re not all main characters of course. Some have two lines and they exit the stage. Others are already lined up for slaughter, I mean, humane and respectful deletion.
With so many people, details are bound to get lost. To keep the sanity of both writer and reader I work on a single memorable trait or manner of each character I want to feature and keep other details out. For anyone that has a longer run or their part demands more depth, I fill in a bio sheet, or character sketch. Here’s an example using Scrivener’s default character sketch template:
Jean-Christophe Deleuze (AKA Christopher Smith)
Role in Story: Former slave aboard the Betsey. His presence is meant to introduce slavery as a subject to the audience and Cabot’s ties to the vile enterprise. His freedom from slavery and new identity is to show the crew of the Betsey as decent men who have limits to their illegal activities.
Physical Description: Late 40s. Dark skinned, dark eyes, long black hair kept in a bound pony tail. Wide nose, wide chin, deep lines in forehead and smile lines. Below average height (good for spending days in the galley), and below average build, (not thin but lean). White shirt, beige duck trousers, black buckle shoes.
Personality: Very kind, loves to cook, loves sweets, good sailor
Habits/Mannerisms: Speaks Antilliean creole and some English. Great laugh and great smile.
Background: Was born into slavery as parents were already slaves in Martinique. Cabot hired the Betsey to transport slaves from Martinique to America. Both were transitioning out of the slave trade business so this was to be an illegal operation. The crew of the Betsey were unaware they were to transport men and not sugar. When they reached America they took the slaves north and found them work. Jean-Christophe chose to stay with the men under the new name Christopher Smith.
Internal Conflicts: Afraid of being on his own. Stayed with the crew because he had no other family. Mother died and father had been taken previously to southern plantation.
External Conflicts: Cannot be found out his origins by others.
As you can see his role in the story and background are more paramount to the feelings the reader should have for characters around him. I hope to change that as I suspect he will end up being a strong character, but I’ve only just started hearing his voice.
Do you have more detailed bios for your characters? How much do they change as your story unfolds and the character takes their own shape?
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