The Blog of John Hewitt

Character Biography for Delbert “Dell” Martin

Below is a character biography I have been working on for my planned NaNoWriMo story. The goal with the biography for me is mainly to get some character details I can draw in as the story progresses. Dell is meant to be the lead character, but by necessity, he is not as flamboyant as some of the other characters I intend to introduce. I think he is interesting, but not a flashy character. If you read my post, Character Bio Sheets, you’ll see that I left some items off. The sheet is meant to be a tool that you can fill in as you go. This is what I have for him so far, and I will add more as I get more thoughts about the character.

 

Character Name: Delbert Martin

Nickname / Alias: Dell

Date of Birth:  August 29th, 1995

Place of Birth: Tucson, Arizona

Residence:  Dell lives in the town of Santa Creda. He lives in a tiny apartment above a sandwich shop. He moved there about a year earlier to take a job.

General Appearance:  Dell is pleasant looking, but not the type of person people notice for his looks. He is relatively fit, with a surprising amount of upper body strength for his size. He tends to dress neatly, if somewhat blandly.  He prefers solid colors, and mainly dresses in blues, grays, and browns.

Height: Five foot nine.

Weight: 155 pounds.

Clothing Sizes: Wears medium shirts and size 32 pants.

Clothing Choices:  For casual wear Dell generally wears Jeans and a t-shirt. For work he wears khakis and a polo shirt.

Hair: Dell has dark brown hair that he wears short, usually about two inches long. He does not have a beard or mustache.

Eye Color: Brown

Handedness: Right

Jewelry: He does not wear jewelry.

Tattoos / Marks: None

Role in the Story: Dell is the lead protagonist. If there are scenes without him, they will be few and probably focused on Zeke.

Key Relationships: Dell and Zeke spend most days together, he is the closest friend Dell has.  Mari was his best friend growing up. He had romantic feelings toward her that were never realized. Del’s Mother Rozalia has a somewhat strained relationship with him. He also has three older brothers, with whom he seldom speaks. They are eight, ten, and thirteen years older than him. Dell was closer to his father, who died three years earlier. Dell has another high school friend, Jared, but does not keep in touch after Mari began dating him. Dell has some interest in Janie, a girl who works the checkout counter at the independent grocery/convenience store across the street from the sandwich shop.

Education: Dell has an Associate’s Degree in Computer Information Systems. He is also a high school graduate. He graduated both schools with honors and has always been a good student who likes to read.

Work History: For the past year and a half, Dell has worked as an overnight Junior System Administrator for a health insurance company. He works three twelve-hour shifts a week and is alone for most of his shift. He sometimes gets called in on additional nights because they have trouble keeping other overnight personnel. During college he worked part-time at a call center for a prescription drug provider.

Skills: Dell spent two years on his high school wrestling team, and although he was never one of the top wrestlers, he has an above-average ability to defend himself. Dell is fairly handy with carpentry tools and general household maintenance. Dell can pick basic locks, especially padlocks. He can juggle, although nothing fancy. He spends a lot of time reading and trying to teach himself things.

Phobias / Fears:  Fears rejection and feeling unwelcome. Fears losing his temper. Fears failure, especially financial failure.

Good Qualities:  Dell is loyal to his friends, perhaps to a fault. He is good with money. He is trustworthy. He rarely drinks and does not smoke.

Bad Habits / Vices: Tends to close off to people when he is angry, often frustrating people who do not know what they have done to upset him. He is easily upset when people discount his opinion because of his age.

Quirks: Keeps a drawer full of wooden pencils that he can break when he is angry. Reliant on the wifi connection from the sandwich shop for his Internet.

Goals and Motivations: Dell values his independence. His biggest motivation is to remain employed and able to keep his apartment and live alone.  Dell’s older brothers have tended to be, in his opinion, unreliable and overly needy, with one or more of them moving back home due to job losses, divorces, and other mishaps. Dell also wants to contribute something to the world, which is why he helps maintain the shrines with Zeke.

Favorite Food: Oranges, preferably Navel and Valencia oranges . Dell usually eats five or six oranges a day. He also eats a lot of sandwiches due to his proximity to a sandwich shop.

Favorite Music: Dell is fond of indie rock bands, especially Wilco and My Morning Jacket. He also likes some older country/folk musicians such as Townes Van Zandt, Woody Guthrie, and John Prine.

 

Are Your Characters Well Spoken, or is it Just You?

How Articulate Are Your Characters?

Most writers are articulate. Because they work with the written word on a daily or near daily basis, and because they have a love of language, most writers express themselves well. Just because a writer is articulate, however, doesn’t mean that a character should be articulate. Adjusting your language to suit a character, especially in dialog, is vital to creating a realistic depiction of that character and vital for differentiating that character from others in the story.

Words Reflect Background

When most people think about writing realistic dialog, they think about things such as regional accents and vocal patterns. Those things are important, but it is just as important to adjust your dialog to the specific background of the characters. For example, people know that there is a Boston accent, but most people don’t realize that the Boston accent varies greatly according to where in the city that person lives and what their economic and educational background is. Not everyone from Boston sounds the same. A well-educated Boston lawyer is not going to sound like a poorly educated bartender at a local dive.

Don’t Distract the Reader

Another mistake people make in tailoring dialog is to go too far into an accent and ignore such things as speech rhythms or word choices. J.K. Rowling, for example, uses very exaggerated accents. In the early books, before the story got particularly dark, the exaggerated accents seemed to work reasonably well considering the stories were fantasy and the intended audience was mostly children. By the final books, however, when the story was very dark and the intended audience was much wider, the exaggerated accents seemed much more unsuitable and distracting.

Unique, Not Extreme

The key with dialog, especially with accents, is to make each person’s style differentiated enough that they sound unique and identifiable, but not so extreme that people are paying more attention to the words being said than they are to the intent of the statement. Try to think of what is distinctive about the way each person speaks, and why their word choices make sense for them.

Some Things to Consider

  • Is the character concise or long winded?
  • Does the character use words they don’t fully understand?
  • Does the character have influence from different regions (such as a person from Texas now living in California or vice-versa)?
  • Is the character used to public speaking?
  • Does the character have any particular patterns or phrases that stand out?
  • Is their something about the character’s role (Boss, employee, teacher, parent) that makes a difference in the way that character speaks in different situations?

How Good is Your Bad Guy?

The Hero is Defined by the Villain

The NBC show Heroes has a lot of problems. It never quite lives up to its potential for a number of reasons. There is one thing I love about the show though. I love Sylar. Sylar is the bad guy. Occasionally you get the feeling that he would like to be a good guy, but deep down he is bad. His essential flaw is that he craves power. Specifically, he craves the superpowers of the other characters and he has a longing to take them, by force, generally leaving the other characters dead or at least deeply changed. Despite that, there is a certain glee to Sylar. He enjoys what he does, and he can readily explain why he does what he does. He’s also funny, and that always helps. I know many people absolutely hate Sylar. That’s fine too. Whatever the case, people care about the guy. People pay attention when he is on the screen.

The Villain Doesn’t Have to be Evil

Not all bad guys are quite as evil as Sylar. In some cases, they aren’t evil at all, they just have goals or intentions that run counter to the Hero. Watch a romantic comedy, and you will often see a good guy antagonist. For example Kevin is the ex-boyfriend of the Greg Focker’s fiance Pam. Kevin is as close to the perfect guy as you can imagine. He is kind and creative. He is handy with a hammer and he is never anything but nice. He is so perfect, in fact, that Stiller’s character feels immensely threatened by the guy and worries that he is going to lose his fiancé to him.

Antagonists Represent Obstacles

Antagonists come in many forms. They may be as evil and ruthless as Darth Vader or they may be as commonplace as an overbearing boss, a flirtatious ex-girlfriend or an annoying little sister. The main role of the antagonist is to provide obstacles for the protagonist. The antagonist’s needs and desires in some way interfere with the needs and desires of the protagonist. The boss makes the protagonist work late when he should be with his wife. The flirtatious ex-girlfriend makes the protagonist doubt his commitment to the wife. The annoying little sister asks exactly the wrong questions just when they can cause the most trouble.

Every Character has a Story

When you are writing your novel, keep in mind that the antagonists have their own goals, their own needs, and their own hopes and desires. You may not agree with their world view, but you should respect that it is important to them. The antagonists are, in their own minds, the protagonist of their own stories. Respect and understand their needs, and you will create antagonists that people want to read about.

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.