John Hewitt's Blog

Character Bio Sheets

Character bio sheets are not only a simple way to create characters, they are a great way to keep track of the characters you develop. When you write a longer work, such as a novel or screenplay, it is easy to forget minor character details. If you aren’t careful, the blue eyes you described on page five can turn to brown eyes by the end of page eighty.

Using a character bio sheet, you can record all of the essential details for your characters and keep them in a single place so that you can check those details whenever necessary. As your story progresses and your characters continue to evolve, you can use bio sheets to keep track of any changes you have made to your characters. If you keep track of all your details on the bio sheet, your editing process will go much more smoothly.

When you fill out a bio sheet initially, don’t feel as if you have to include a detail for every category. There are many things you will need to discover as your story progresses. On your first pass, record all of the details you are comfortable with and leave the rest. Feel free to add your own categories. This list has details that I find useful. You may have different needs or ideas.

  • Character Name
  • Nickname / Alias
  • Date of Birth
  • Place of Birth
  • Residence
  • General Appearance
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Measurements
  • Clothing Sizes
  • Clothing Choices
  • Hair Color
  • Hair Length
  • Eye Color
  • Handedness
  • Jewelry
  • Tattoos / Marks
  • Role in the Story
  • Key Relationships
  • Education
  • Work History
  • Skills
  • Phobias / Fears
  • Bad Habits / Vices
  • Quirks
  • Best Qualities
  • Worst Qualities
  • Key Childhood Experiences
  • Key Teenage Experiences
  • Key Adult Experiences
  • Sexual Background
  • Favorites (food, clothing, art, music, TV show, movie, book)
  • Goals and Motivations
  • Morality / Ethics
  • Style of Speech
  • Words/Slang/Jargon
  • Additional Information
  • Character Name
  • Nickname / Alias
  • Date of Birth
  • Place of Birth
  • Residence
  • General Appearance
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Measurements
  • Clothing Sizes
  • Clothing Choices
  • Hair Color
  • Hair Length
  • Eye Color
  • Handedness
  • Jewelry
  • Tattoos / Marks
  • Role in the Story
  • Key Relationships
  • Education
  • Work History
  • Skills
  • Phobias / Fears
  • Bad Habits / Vices
  • Quirks
  • Best Qualities
  • Worst Qualities
  • Key Childhood Experiences
  • Key Teenage Experiences
  • Key Adult Experiences
  • Sexual Background
  • Favorites (food, clothing, art, music, TV show, movie, book)
  • Goals and Motivations
  • Morality / Ethics
  • Style of Speech
  • Words/Slang/Jargon
  • Additional Information

10 days of character building wrap up

Character Bio Sheets

A bio sheet is a way of keeping track of a character’s physical description, traits and attributes. This method is familiar to anyone who enjoys role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Using a Bio Sheet gives you an excellent reference point to go back to when you need to remember key information about your character.
Defining Characters By Their Roles

There are specific roles that characters fall into when you are writing a story. These include Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, Shadow, Trickster.  Christopher Vogler’s book, The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers explores these roles in depth.

Building a Character Using Multiple Perspectives

This technique helps you to build relationships. You write about your character based on other people’s (characters in the story) views and opinions about that person.

Key Questions

This is a simple list of questions that provide insight into your character and how your character fits into your story.

Basing Characters on Real People

We often draw inspiration for fictional characters from people we know in real life. This article gives you advice on how to avoid some of the problems that can crop up when you translate a real person into a fictional one.

A Day in the Life

Once the events of a story kick into motion, main characters are pushed outside of their boundaries and comfort zones. Following your character through a typical day helps you figure out who that character is under normal circumstances.

Interview

This is a classic method of creating a character. You set up a situation in which that character is being interviewed (for a magazine, by the police, for a job, etc.). This not only allows you to delve into your character’s personality, it helps you to develop your character’s voice.

Biography

A biography is an in-depth exploration of the events in your character’s life that lead to who your character is at the beginning of the story.

Possessions

Defining what your character owns (and doesn’t own) provides insight into the character’s personality and circumstances.

Brainstorming

This is a stream-of consciousness method that allows you to think fluidly about a character without editing yourself. You write quickly and delete nothing until you are done.

Fifteen craft exercises for writers

Writing exercises are a great way to increase your writing skills and generate new ideas. They give you perspective and help you break free from old patterns and crutches. To grow as a writer, you need to sometimes write without the expectation of publication or worry about who will read your work. Don’t fear imperfection. That is what practice is for.

Pick ten people you know and write a one-sentence description for each of them. Focus on what makes each person unique and noteworthy.

 

Record five minutes of a talk radio show. Write down the dialog and add narrative descriptions of the speakers and actions as if you were writing a scene.

 

Write a 500-word biography of your life. Think about the moments that were most meaningful to you and that shaped you as a person.

 

Write your obituary. List all of your life’s accomplishments. You can write it as if you died today or fifty or more years in the future.

 

Write a 300-word description of your bedroom. Think about the items you have or the other elements of your room that give the best clues about who you are or who you want others to think you are.

 

Write an interview with yourself, an acquaintance, a famous figure or a fictional character. Do it in the style of an appropriate (or inappropriate) publication such as TimePeopleRolling StoneHuffington Post,PoliticoCosmopolitanSeventeen or Maxim.

 

Read a news site, a newspaper or a supermarket tabloid.  Scan the articles until you find something that interests you and use it as the basis for a scene or story.

 

Write a diary or a blog of a fictional character. Write something every day for two weeks.

 

Rewrite a passage from a book, a favorite or a least favorite, in a different style such as noir, gothic romance, pulp fiction or horror story.

 

Pick an author you like though not necessarily your favorite.  Make a list of what you admire about the way the author writes. Do this from memory first, without rereading the author’s work. After you’ve made your list, reread some of the author’s work and see if you missed anything or if your answers change. Analyze what elements of that author’s writing style you can add to your own, and what elements you should not or cannot add. Remember that your writing style is your own. Only try to think of ways to add to your style. Never try to mimic someone else for more than an exercise or two.

 

Take a piece of your writing that you have written in first person and rewrite it in third person, or vice-versa. You can also try this exercise changing tense, narrators, or other stylistic elements. Don’t do this with an entire book. Stick to shorter works. Once you commit to a style for a book, never look back or you will spend all of your time rewriting instead of writing.

 

Try to identify your earliest childhood memory. Write down everything you can remember about it. Rewrite it as a scene. You may choose to do this from your current perspective or from the perspective you had at that age.

 

Remember an old argument you had with another person. Write about the argument from the point of view of the other person. Remember that the idea is to see the argument from their perspective, not your own. This is an exercise in voice, not in proving yourself right or wrong.

 

Write a 200-word or longer description of a place. You can use any and all sensory descriptions but sight. You can describe what it feels like, sounds like, smells like and even tastes like. Try to write the description in such a way that people will not miss the visual details.

 

Sit in a restaurant or a crowded area and write down the snippets of conversation you hear. Listen to the people around you. Listen to how they talk and to what words they use. Once you have done this, you can practice finishing their conversations. Write your version of what comes next in the conversation. Match their style.

Autobiographical writing about your childhood

Autobiographical Writing is an excellent way to work on your descriptive skills. When you describe items or memories from your past, you are able to provide details that are often lacking in more purely imaginative exercises. With autobiographical writing you learn how to describe what was rather than what isn’t.

Another great benefit of these writing exercises is that they can bring back long-forgotten thoughts about who you were and what you felt in the past. These questions can take you on a personal journey through your life. This first set of questions deals with childhood and childhood memories. Most people spend very little time thinking about their childhood. Many of these questions can bring back memories that you haven’t considered for years.

When you approach a question, try to make your answer last at least a few paragraphs. Take the time to think about the question and try to make the most of your answer.

  1. Give a general description of your childhood; what was life like for you?
  2. What are your very earliest memories?
  3. Describe any childhood ailments or injuries you had.
  4. What was family life like as a child? How did you feel you fit into your family?
  5. Describe your favorite toy. What did it look like? How did it feel?
  6. Describe your favorite books growing up. What made them special to you?
  7. Describe your favorite game growing up.
  8. Describe a specific school memory from your elementary years.
  9. Write about your best friend as a child and the experiences you had together. What has happened to that friendship since childhood?
  10. Describe your nemesis growing up. Who made your life miserable and what did they do to make it so rough?
  11. Describe your favorite foods as a child. What did you eat then that you no longer eat?
  12. What was the biggest trouble you got into as a child? Describe what you did or didn’t do to deserve what happened to you.
  13. What was your greatest childhood accomplishment? How did it make you feel? What influence do you think it has had on your life since?
  14. Describe what you did or where went as a child when you wanted to feel safe.
  15. Describe your personality as a child. In what ways has it changed as you’ve gotten older? In what ways has it stayed the same?
  16. Describe what your parents were like when you were a child. What was your relationship like with them? How has your opinion of your parents changed as you’ve grown older?
  17. What other relatives besides your immediate family do you remember as a child? Describe your most interesting relative.
  18. Describe something that people would be surprised to know about your childhood.
  19. Describe some of the cultural influences in your childhood such as music, television, movies, plays, art or writing.
  20. Describe the home you grew up in. If you lived in several different homes, describe one or discuss the reasons for the frequent moves. Were you moving up or working your way down?
  21. Describe a family vacation. Where did you go? Why did you go there? What did you do? How did you travel?

Additional autobiographical writing resources:

Glossary of writing careers

The list of jobs a writer can hold will never be complete. You’ll find writers who are programmers, stock traders and business executives. Below is a list of some of the most likely and probably most satisfying careers for people who love to write.

Acquisitions Editor
Most often associated with book publishers, an acquisitions editor supervises the process of finding potential writers to write for their publisher. They often are in charge of negotiations with the writer.

Advertising Writer
See copywriter.

Agent’s Assistant
An agent’s assistant does whatever tasks need to be done for a literary or talent agent. They often act as manuscript readers for an agent, who generally receives far more manuscripts than they have time to read.

Assistant Editor
An assistant editor serves under the managing editor or editor in chief. The generally take over some of their duties, such as managing writers or making story assignments. Often they are assigned a specific section within a publication or broadcast. If so, they may also be called a section editor.

Author
An author is what people classically think of when they think of writers. An author writes books. These books can be fiction or non-fiction.

Columnist
A columnist is the writer of on ongoing, regularly scheduled feature for a publication. They may also syndicate their articles to multiple publications.

Copy Clerk
See editorial assistant.

Copy Editor
A copy editor prepares text for publication. They proofread articles and often act as fact-checkers as well.

Copywriter
A copywriter writes advertising and product descriptions (know collectively as copy) for print and online catalogs, commercial scripts, brochures, direct mail and so forth.

Critic
See reviewer.

Editor-in-Chief
Editor-in-chief is in charge of the overall content and production of a publication. This is a managerial position more than an editing position.

Editorial Assistant
An editorial assistant provides administrative support for editors, associate editors and writing/editorial staff. They often perform scheduling, filing, note taking, and other administrative duties. They may or may not perform writing and editing tasks.

Editorial Secretary
See editorial assistant.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Instructor
ESL instructors teach the basic or advanced skills of speaking and writing in English to students who did not learn English originally. They often work in foreign countries.

English Teacher
And English teacher generally works with high school or junior high school classes to teach them English grammar and writing.

Fact Checker
See researcher.

Gag Writer
A gag writer writes for cartoonists, comedians or shows needing humor, generally in short form.

Ghostwriter
A ghostwriter is employed to write on behalf of another person and give the authorship credit to that other person.

Grant Writer
A grant writer researches and responds to grant opportunities for an organization, often a non-profit one. Grant proposals must often adhere to strict rules spelled out by the organization providing the grant.

Indexer
An indexer analyzes the text of a book or other published materials and creates an alphabetized or otherwise organized list of key terms and their locations.

Journalist
A journalist collects, writes, edits, and presents news or news articles for the Internet, magazines, radio, television and newspapers. A journalist may or may not be a permanent employee of a publication or media outlet.

Joke Writer
See gag writer.

Lecturer
See speaker.

Literary Agent
A literary agent represents an author in their dealings with publishers. It is their job to get a manuscript read and sought after by the right people.

Managing Editor
A managing editor administers and directs the editorial activities of a magazine, newspaper, book publisher or other media outlet.

Manuscript Evaluator
See manuscript reader.

Manuscript Reader
A manuscript reader reviews submissions from writers. Generally it is their job to weed out less suitable work and pass on the best of the submissions to an editor such as an acquisitions editor.

Monologist
Much like a storyteller, this person writes and then performs an anecdote or series of anecdotes. Monologist is considered a more prestigious title than storyteller. The term is usually applied to people who perform for an adult audience.

Press Agent
See Publicist.

Production Editor
Production editors often have duties similar to that of a copyeditor, but they are focused on putting the article into its printed form, often using page design packages such as FrameMaker, PageMaker, or Quark Express.

Public Relations Writer
A public relations (PR) writer creates materials that establish and promote a business or other entities’ image and relationship with the public.

Publicist
A publicist’s job is half public relations and half advertising. A publicist promotes an individual, business, or group. They arrange for and often write newspaper articles, and schedule interviews, lectures, or other public appearances. They may also arrange for paid advertising if the client desires it.

Publicity Writer
See Publicist.

Publisher
The publisher is in charge of a publication. Often, the publisher is an owner or has some financial stake in the publication. It is their job to oversee the preparation and distribution of printed material for public sale such as books, magazines, and newspapers. The also tend to set editorial policy, often with the aid of an editorial board.

Reading Tutor
A reading tutor teaches reading skills to young or underdeveloped readers.

Researcher
A researcher must provide or confirm information for published materials written by other people. They do not receive writing credits for their work.

Resume Writer
A resume writer works with job seekers to create resumes, cover letters and other materials that will help them find a job.

Reviewer
A reviewer evaluates the quality of things such as books, films, food, art or theater.

Scriptwriter (Business)
A business scriptwriter writes sales scripts and presentations.

Scriptwriter (TV, Film, Radio, Theater)
A scriptwriter writes copy to be used by an announcer, performer, or director in a film or broadcast.

Speaker
A speaker lectures on a topic or series of topic for an audience, often in an educational or motivational capacity.

Speechwriter
A speechwriter writes presentations, lectures, and speeches for other people.

Staff Writer
A writer employed by a business, publication, or broadcaster to write articles and rewrite press releases or other information.

Storyteller
A storyteller is a performer who generally writes and then performs aloud the telling of a story. This is often associated with children’s tales. When the performance is mainly for adults the performers are generally called monologists.

Technical Editor
A technical editor reviews the work of technical writers or technical professionals to make sure it is accurate from a technical legal, and editing standpoint.

Technical Writer
A technical writer analyzes and writes about specialized subjects such as computers, engineering, science, medicine and law.

Translator
A translator rewrites in one or more languages materials originally created in a different language.

Writing Consultant
A writing consultant is a sort of editor-for-hire that examines someone’s writing for ways that it can be improved upon.

Writing Instructor
A writing instructor generally works at the college level but without tenure. They are hired to teach one or more writing classes that are generally focused on composition or grammar.

Writing Professor
A writing professor is a tenured instructor who has generally been published many times. They are often required to teach only two or three classes a semester and spend the rest of their time writing new materials for publication and mentoring students.

Writing Tutor
A writing tutor works individually with another person to improve their writing. Unlike a writing consultant, the writing tutor focuses on a person’s general writing skill rather than a specific piece of writing.

Writing persona poems

A New Perspective

As we continue to explore different approaches to poetry, today we are going to look at the persona poem. Persona poems are poems written from a perspective other than your own. You use your imagination to enter the world of another character. You can write a persona poem from the perspective of a friend, an enemy, a relative, a pet, a celebrity, a historical figure, a character from literature or you can make up a character of your own.

The basis or a persona poem is a change in point-of-view. You aren’t just writing about another character, you are writing as if you were that other character. You try to think like that character. You imagine that character’s thoughts, actions, skills and limitations. You try to capture the world in which that character lives and you portray it as if you were that character.

This is a style of poetry that is heavily influenced by fiction. You leave behind your point of view and take on another. You try to bring a character to life and make that character interesting to your readers. It can be challenging, but also freeing. You are given the chance to change your style, tone and perspective, at least for the length of one poem.

Adding a fictional layer to your poetry allows you to address issues you can’t comfortably express as yourself. Persona poems can be an excellent method for dealing with personal issues that are too close for you to write about from your own perspective. Persona poems also can be a great way to explore your feelings about an social or personal issue by looking at it from the other side. What would the person on the other side of the issue say to you?

Poetry Assignment

Write a persona poem that incorporates one of the past two concepts. It should either address a social issue or it should provide a strong sense of place. One great way to do the latter is to write a poem in a public place, and to observe the people around you until you find someone interesting that you can imagine a back-story for.

Today’s Recommended Poet

Persona poems are an opportunity to explore new worlds. Fiction writers get to do this all the time. There are some poetry writers who write almost exclusively in other personas. The poet AI (pronounced “I”) is an excellent example of a persona poet. She has written from the perspectives of miners, farmers, abusive husbands, the famous and the infamous. No poet writes more vividly from other people’s perspectives than Ai.

Dread 2004

Vice 2000

Greed 1994