Yawl remember January? What a time.
During the Snowflake Method Workshop I brought up the character bible step we skipped (because it is an evil soul crushing step) and some of yawl seemed interested, so here we are.
So, what is a character bible? (Hell)
In short, it’s a section of your character sheet that contains the smaller, in between-the-gaps details that doesn’t fit into broad categories like “Goal,” or “Epiphany.” They include basic facts like what color eyes your character has or the name of their younger sister you mention exactly twice. Character bibles are massive time savers, especially if you keep your chapters in separate documents. There are also more fun questions that help you nail down your character, like what their opinion of themself is.
What I tend to do is go through a character sheet one character at a time, making sure to give special attention to the characters I feel the least connected to. It takes a long time, but by the end I’ve gone weepy over how brave they’ve been despite their struggles and I know that they kill my favorite side character but do I care??? I mean, yes (but also no)
Of course, there are cons to character bibles. It is a form. And when I first started making them, I added so many questions that I’d never fill it out because it felt like too much work for information I'd never use. Whether you’re a pantser or planner, spending too much time filling out questionnaires for a character can cause a character to lose their magic. And of course, like every piece of writing advice out there, this might not be helpful for you, your writing style, or your wip.
This will be the most useful for people who already have a basic sense of a character but aren’t sure about the details. For anyone following the Snowflake Method, by this point you should have already established the character’s values, one paragraph summary, external and internal conflicts, background synopsis, etc. If you want to see the full method, go to https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/
Answer these questions with as much or as little detail as you want, especially since a few of these are basic questions you've likely already answered.
Section 1: Icebreakers
- How old is your character? What is their birthday? Does their birthday/age have any special meaning to them?
- What kind of education has your character had? What is their relationship to education?
- Does your character have a job? If so, what is it?
- What is your character’s relationship to religion?
- What is their relationship to politics?
- What does your character do for fun/to relax?
- What is your character’s clothing and sense of style like? Why?
- What are some of their important possessions? Why?
- Describe your character’s physical appearance. (Example info: Eye, skin, and hair color; height and weight; distinguishing features like scars)
Section 2: Relationships
- For each important person in your character’s family, if they have one, what is your character’s relationship to them? What are some important facts about them like age, job, etc?
- The same questions as above, but for your characters’ friends.
- How does your character treat other people? How does this change depending on who they’re with?
- How do other people treat your character? How does this change depending on who they’re with?
- Who depends on them? Why?
- Who do they depend on? Why?
- Say your character is trying to convince someone to do something they don’t want to do, such as cut in line or give them the last slice of cake. How do they do it?
- What are some environmental influences on your character?
- List your character’s allies, the history of their relationship, and how/if it evolves throughout the story; these questions are especially useful for side characters since it establishes relationships that don't involve the protagonist.
- Do the same with your character's enemies; does this character have a nemesis?
Section 3: Internal
- What are some advantages/skills your character has? (These aren’t personality traits, though personality traits can affect these skills; think more along the lines of swimming or being good at math)
- What are disadvantages/lack of skills your character has?
- What are your character’s best personality traits?
- What are their worst personality traits? (Something fun I like to do is make the best and worst traits the same, just extremes or in a different light: For example, my character Whitney is observant, loyal, and self-reliant. But she also overthinks, has difficulty criticizing the people she cares about, and will take care of herself first before helping other people).
- What is your character’s opinion of themself?
- What do they do in an emergency? (i.e., do they panic, do they seek help or keep the problem to themself, etc. If you’ve ever made a broken vending machine meme for your story, now is the time to pull it out).
- What was the best thing that ever happened to them?
- What was the worst?
- What’s the best thing that could happen?
- And the worst thing that could happen? (and y’know… if you’re feeling evil…you could pour the readers a mug of angst tea and have this fear come true).
Section 4: Meta
- (I don’t know why I’m numbering this question, it’s literally the only one in this section.) Why should people outside the universe of the narrative care about this character? This could be you, the audience, the actor who plays them in the blockbuster movie adaptation, etc. What makes this character relatable, fun to hate, etc?
Feel free to use these questions, and feel free to print this out just so you can put in a garbage can and set it on fire. If you do decide to make your own character bible, add and remove questions as fits your writing style and your story’s needs—for example, in fantasy stories you might add some questions about magical abilities. But in a contemporary, you might add something like what the character’s access to technology is and details about that. I hope this helped!