The Blog of John Hewitt

Creating a role-playing character biography

The point of writing a back story for a role playing character is to enrich your experience in the game. The biography of the character helps define that character’s actions and attitude. When it comes to adversity, the character’s life doesn’t have to be miserable, but it should include some moments that give the character motivation.

Let’s say I decide to play a bard (I don’t want to taint your sorceress). I want my bard to have some fighting skill and some musical skill, but the character is still young and relatively unproven. In researching character skills I decide I want him to start off with skills in performing, scribing and basic weapons. I also intend for him to pick up forgery, diplomacy and information gathering as skills later on. Personality wise, I picture him as good natured but a bit of a con man and a blowhard. He doesn’t just want to kill enemies and make money; he wants to have a great story to tell. He’s also the type of adventurer who will do whatever it takes to survive.

Below are a few short questions and answers that I will use to flesh out his character. I include my thought process in parentheses.

What’s his/her Name?

Lute Barjoey (This name is musical and it ties into his heritage. Yes, that can be a little hokey but role-playing games are for fun, not literature.)

Where did he/she grow up?

Lute grew up in a minor town of about 800 people. He was the third of three children, all boys. His father and mother owned a small tavern where they and his eldest brother Edward worked. Lute grew up surrounded by laughter, liquor and music (Explaining his formative background in music and revelry).

Why did the character become a bard (Sorceress, warrior, etc.)?

Lute was an amazingly intelligent and beautiful child with an excellent aptitude for mimicry both in voice and instrument (Accounting for the high points I allot to charisma and intelligence). As the third child he stood little chance of inheriting the bar so his parents apprenticed him to a touring theater company where he received basic training (Enough to be a low level bard with some performing abilities). While touring, the theater company disbanded for a lack of funds, leaving the young man in a new city with almost no money (Adversity). He survived for a while by performing music and storytelling in the streets and by writing letters and documents (Scribing) for the illiterate townsfolk but spent more than one night hungry and huddled in the cold (More adversity!). While he believed himself to be a good person, he stole food on more than one occasion and conned his way into a few ladies beds by virtue of his looks (Food and shelter trump law and honor for him).

Tired of living hand-to-mouth he joined the military and was sent to a foreign war. He spent most of his time as a prison guard and saw very little action (Remember he is still young and untested), but he learned how to use basic military weapons such as swords and bows. Much of his time was actually spent playing music for his fellow soldiers and writing letters home for them (More performing and scribing).

How did the character come to seek adventure?

The roots of the bard’s wanderlust began when he toured with the theater company. The desire to travel grew while in the military. After his country was victorious in the war, they cut back on their military. Lute was given a small severance package and went home to live with his parents. He worked for a year scribing documents for the local government (The roots of both his emerging forgery and diplomacy skills) but still spent his nights playing flute in his parent’s tavern and entertaining the locals with his exaggerated tales of the war based on other soldier’s letters (The roots of his information gathering skill). His future seemed set, but the thought of spending the rest of his life writing down other people’s words depressed him (More adversity and desire for adventure). Also, he longed for the money to start a theater group of his own and he knew that his small salary would never be enough (A goal). Plus, he had told his exaggerated stories of adventure so many times that he had started to believe them himself.

How did the character arrive where he/she is?

One day Lute packed up his few belongings (Including paper, a pen and ink, a sword, a bow and a flute) and decided to head out in search of adventure. There were rumors of rebellion in the lands his country had conquered. Apparently martial law was failing. Lute smelled adventure . . . and money. (These circumstances may have to be molded to whatever adventure is being planned)

Average Salaries for Writers and Editors

This is a list of the average salaries for a number of writing and editing professions. The figures represent typical scales for a mid-sized metropolitan area in the United States. Larger markets tend to pay more and smaller markets tend to pay less. Remember that these are typical salaries for people who are employed by other companies. There is a much greater income variation among people who freelance or own their own businesses.

Note: These figures were compiled using a variety of sources including salary information at,

  • Acquisitions Editor: $37,000 to $57,000
  • Assistant Editor: $26,000 to $40,000
  • Associate Editor: 33,000 to 44,000
  • Blogger: $17,000 to $38,000
  • Copy Editor: $21,000 to 42,000
  • Copywriter: $41,000 to $63,000
  • Editor: $37,000 to $54,000
  • Editorial Assistant: $24,000 to $38,000
  • Editor-in-Chief: $51,000 to $95,000
  • E-learning Developer: $42,000 to 75,000
  • Fact Checker / Researcher: $25,000 to $37,000
  • Grant Writer: $35,000 to $47,000
  • Junior Copywriter: $29,000 to $44,000
  • Junior Technical Writer: $31,000 to $42,000
  • Legal Editor: $36,000 to $45,000
  • Managing Editor: $37,000 to 49,000
  • Medical Copy Editor: $29,000 to 44,000
  • Medical Editor: $37,000 to 52,000
  • News Editor: $25,000 to 35,000
  • Newspaper Reporter: $24,000 to $51,000
  • Online Editor: $31,000 to $50,000
  • Proofreader: $29,000 to $41,000
  • Proposal Writer: $41,000 to 69,000
  • Public Relations Writer: $34,000 to $46,000
  • Publications Assistant: $25,000 to $37,000
  • Senior Copywriter: $54,000 to $80,000
  • Senior Editor: $42,000 to $66,000
  • Senior Technical Writer: $56,000 to $81,000
  • Speech Writer: $51,000 to $73,000
  • Technical Copy Editor: $36,000 to $52,000
  • Technical Editor: $36,000 to $57,000
  • Technical Writer: $42,000 to $63,000
  • Web Editor: $22,000 to $44,000

What is a short story?


I define a short story as a brief, focused fictional piece that contains at minimum the following key elements: plot, setting, characterization and some sort of resolution.


In my opinion, the optimal length for a short story is between ten and fifty double-spaced pages of text. To me, anything longer than this is a novella (a short novel). Some other ways of defining the length of a short story are:

  • Short stories are short enough to be read in a single sitting (from a half hour two hours). This definition can be traced back to Edgar Allen Poe, one of the first great short story writers.
  • Short stories are less than 5000 words.
  • Short stories are shorter than a novel.


In my opinion, the true difference between a short story and a novel is that a short story has a unity of theme, character and plot that is much more focused than a novel. Here are some other ways of stating the difference:

  • Short stories tend to concentrate on one major event or conflict.
  • Short stories have only one or two main characters.
  • Short stories create a single specific effect.
  • Short stories are more compressed than novels.
  • Short stories do not have sub-plots.


In my opinion, a short story has all of the elements of a novel. Specifically, they tell a story, as the name suggests. One or more characters experience an event or conflict, and that event or conflict has an observable effect on the character or characters. This differentiates a short story from a character sketch, which serves only to illustrate or flesh out a character. It also differentiates a short story from anecdotes or parables, which are often amusing or demonstrate a lesson, but which do not necessarily call for a character to be changed in any real way.


Short stories are as varied as novels. They can come from such genres as horror, fantasy, romance, erotica, adventure and science fiction. They can be action packed and exciting or introspective and philosophical. They can be romantic, sexy, satirical, cynical, bleak or optimistic.

I tend to write what are called literary short stories. Literary short stories focus more on character and tone than plot. In most cases they avoid other genres. I also tend to include a lot of humor in my stories, often unintentionally. That is simply my style. Your style can be whatever you want it to be.


The downside of the web is that most of the stories we can access by major authors are older, public domain stories. With that said, I found a nice variety of short stories to get people started.

What is a stanza?

Stanza means stopping place

The term stanza means “stopping place” in Italian. A stanza is a set of lines in a poem, set apart from other sets of lines by space. Each stanza comprises its own unit. The break/space between stanzas generally indicates a pause between thoughts, concepts or actions. In standard practice, most poems end a sentence at the end of stanza. It is important to remember, however, that there is no definitive rule that says this must happen. Of all writing forms, poetry is the most experimental. Rules of form get broken all the time. Many poems are written without stanza breaks. These poems simply continue for however many lines the poem lasts. It is possible to call these poems single-stanza poems, but in practice few people worry about any rules or guidelines for stanzas in these cases.

Stanza length

Most poetry forms have rules regarding the length of stanzas. For example, a sestina has seven stanzas. The first six are six lines long and the last is three lines long. A sestina has many other rules involving repetition and order of words, but stanzas are the primary concern here. Stanzas provide structure and format within a poem. In many ways they are the equivalent of a paragraph in a prose work. The use of stanzas can make a poem more visually appealing, and give the poem a means of division. Even poems without rhyme or meter will gain structure from the use of stanzas.

Stanza forms

Stanzas can take many forms, most of which are unnamed. A few standard stanzas have stood the test of time. A couplet is a two-line stanza; if the two lines rhyme it is called a rhyming couplet. A tercet or triplet is a three-line stanza. A quatrain is a four-line stanza. Sometimes a stanza is called a verse or a stroph. The meaning is essentially the same, but stanza is the far more popular term. The important thing to remember is that, except when you are using a set form, you have a great deal of leeway in how you use stanzas. You can set stanzas to break at the end of every sentence, every action, or every independent thought, for example. Unless a particular form demands it, you should simply divide your poems up in ways that make sense to you. A stanza can vary in number of lines and in line length or meter. Using multiple stanzas is simply a way to bring structure to your poem.

Mapping out your novel’s characters

In much the same way that you need to outline the action points in your plot, you should map out the relationships of your characters. Creating the backgrounds for your individual characters is important, and I covered that with this series of articles about building characters. Here, I am talking about mapping out the relationships between your characters. The goal of this process is to give structure to the relationships in your story. Knowing the individual traits or attitudes of your characters is important, but knowing the history and events in the relationships of your characters is equally important.

Character Map

Let’s say that you have three lead characters (just to keep it simple): Allen, Jillian, and Lisa. A character map would map out the relationships and past interactions between these three characters.

  • Allen and Jillian are married.
  • Lisa is Jillian’s younger sister.
  • Jillian views Lisa as being more successful and attractive than she is.
  • Allen thinks that Lisa is an annoyance, and dislikes any contact with her.
  • Allen has brought up his dislike in the past and has had Jillian get upset, so he no longer mentions it.
  • Lisa envies the relationship that Allen has with Jillian and misses the days when she and her sister were closer.
  • When Jillian and Lisa were younger, they both competed for the same guy, Wes, and Lisa won out. The relationship ended quickly, but it has created a slight distrust between them.
  • Jillian has gained weight recently, while Lisa has been losing weight and getting fit, which makes Jillian feel increasingly insecure.

The series of relationship ties can go on and on. The important point is that you map these relationships out so that you know how each character feels about the others and why. That way, as events play out in your novel, you will have a better idea of how each character will react to the actions of the other characters. You may not want to, or need to mention every item in the relationship map over the course of your novel, but knowing that these relationship intersects are there will give you a better view of how these characters will react to each other and why.