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Basically, I have about 7 or 8 characters (excluding the antagonist) who each have important roles in the story. My problem is that my characters tend to develop themselves, so to speak. I have no problem with this - in fact, I find it rather amusing - but it leads to an increased chance of them going out of character later. The way to prevent this is, obviously, to write up a bio - the character's personality, back story (to some extent), and some other basic traits.

The question is, how detailed should I be? I don't want to be overly basic - again, that leads to out of character moments (and plot holes) - but I also don't want to go into extreme detail on something only I am likely to see. I want to at least include some important events that helped shape who the character is now. I've finished one, and it's almost over the top in detail. I'd rather not do that 6 more times.

I'd like some advice on what I should and should not include in a character bio, as well as the level of detail I should go into.

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Write only what you need to survive. –  KitFox Sep 4 '13 at 16:04
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@Kit Survival is insufficient. :) –  Lauren Ipsum Nov 20 '13 at 20:08
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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Before starting your story, write as much as you need to feel comfortable with the character. That could be pages and pages, or only a paragraph. (For example, the Harry Potter trio were asked to write up something in the voice of their characters. Radcliffe did a page, Watson did 20, and Grint did nothing. When asked why, he said, "Ron would never turn in such an assignment." The director was like, "Yep, you totally understand Ron.")

If your first one is "over the top," then don't write the others so long. Or alternatively, go ahead; why not? Who cares if you write 50 pages of stuff only for you, if you decide you need it?

As you go along, keep checking back with your notes, and add, remove, or edit as needed.

If some character trait is crucial to the plot (he's afraid of fire because his brother burned him as a child, she was inspired by her grandmother to be a singer no matter what the cost), then you need to iron that out first, and stick to it.

As far as "my characters evolve out of character," either you need to be more disciplined and stick with the character you created, or you have to change your plot (and therefore your character bio) to accommodate the new information.

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Short: It depend what you need. Write all you need to explain why your character is like that.

Long: Firstly, I think you need to know what your character remember. It's obvious, but I know some people who forget it. Sure, it's could be difficult with character who have a good memory, but if you need he/she tell something of his/her past, you won't have to think about the event but only the way this event was tell.

What you probably want to know is the rest. An important part of his or her behavior could depend of his past, and you will probably need to know this events. It could be something he/she forgot but it's why he/she is protective, greedy, paranoiac... All. If an event don't leave any kind of scar (physical or psychological) on your character, it's not necessary to write it.

After, some part have to be more detailed than others. You don't need to write each hour of each event of course, but the most important 'scars' would probably be more detailed than others. You can easily resume quickly what was his/her education, but you'll probably need to be more detailed on his/her first love, a first failure... If you think something is important, wrote it. If it's really important, detail it. If not, just a quick note would be enough.

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While I didn't select this as the answer, I'll still be using ideas from it. The selected answer answered my question in the way I needed it. This just added some extra detail and worded things differently. Thanks! –  JMcAfreak Nov 20 '13 at 3:22
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First of all you should make for each character a short personal description - what they like, what they don't like, what problems they have, how they relate to each other, and so on. Just little things to give your character a defined personality. Some bullet points would be enough. Then write a short text only about the background story of your character. Write the things that will help you to remember the core content. That's enough because this way you'll have the possibility to embellish the story while writing.

That's the way I do it and it helps a lot to define and save the personality of my characters which I want for them. You have a guideline but you are also not bound.

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