I’m slowly coming to the end of my story and while tying everything together I have to make sure all my backup documents are in order. You know, make sure I have all my ducks in a row. I don’t want to leave any loose ends or dropped story lines.
I do very little prep before I start writing but a few things I do faithfully. I thought I would share these things with you. You may find them helpful.
First: I write two mini-bios. Below are the questions I complete for each main character. Both these examples came from the book “Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints by: Nancy Kress.
Mini-Bio for Key Characters
Children and their ages:
Living arrangements: (i.e., lives with wife and three young children; rents ramshackle apartment alone; has tent in nomadic tribe with three concubines)
Occupation, including name of employer: (if applicable)
Degree of skill at occupation (loves it, hates it, regards it as “just a job,” has mixed feelings, is actively searching for other employment)
Family background (whatever you think is important: ethnicity, siblings’ names, parents’ names, social status, clan affiliation, total repugnance toward everybody he knew before the age of twelve)
Emotional Mini-Bio for Key Characters
What three or four things does this person value most in life?
(i.e. success, money, family, god, love, integrity, power, peace and quiet)
What three things do they most fear?
What is this person’s basic underlying attitude about life?
What do they need to know about a person in order to accept that other as “all right” and trustworthy?
What would cause this person more pain than anything else possible?
What would this person consider the most wonderful thing that could ever happen to them?
What three words would this person use to describe himself or herself, accurate or not?
I try to have a firm grasp on my characters when I start writing even if I don’t have a firm grasp on the story. I also come up with a list of key phrases that they most often say. Expletives or common expressions, for example, Sarah says “Dammit” and Ali says “Oh hell.”
I’ll write a couple of journal entries from the characters point of view just to get an idea of what they’re made of. I try to focus on their history and their current state-of-mind so I can accurately portray them in my writing. This is very helpful in making them real individuals and not just a random picture in my head.—which brings me to my next step. I look for pictures of people I think most resemble my character. Sarah happens to look a lot like Keri Russell, when I think of Mark, Chris Pine comes to mind but with darker hair. Brian looks similar to Eric Bana or Brody Jenner, Eric is slightly too old and Brody is too young but they both resemble him in looks-yes, he’s very hot!
In addition I make a list of all characters, which often changes by the end of the story. I list their names, ages and occupations. Then tie together how they’re all related to each other.
I make a timeline highlighting important events in the lives of my main characters. Births, marriages, divorces, birth of their children, etc.
When starting a new story I pick a date on the calendar, like September 22nd. Then I print a calendar for September through whenever—however long it takes to finish the story. my first manuscript starts on September 22nd and ends mid-January. I use the printed calendar to mark current events. For example, one entry under November 10th might say “Sarah’s attacker arrested” or under October 18th, “Sarah and Mark fight—break up” or “Sarah and Mark’s first kiss”. (It is a love story after all 🙂 )
I also had to list the marriages of Sarah’s parents because both had been married numerous times. I couldn’t keep them straight so I had to make a list of wedding dates, divorces and last names. Every time Sarah’s mother divorced she moved to another state so I had to track each move by city and Sarah’s age at the time of the move. As you can imagine the timeline is very long.
I’d be curious to hear how you all started, besides the typical outline.