Once, there was a girl who was clueless on how to make a good character bio.
Instead, she wrote a 75 page backstory and thought she nailed her main characters down. Because this was when she first started writing, she just ended up more confused about how to find out her character goals and her motivation. Then she couldn’t figure out why her characters sucked, no one liked her story and some told her to rewrite the entire thing.
She pouted and cried, then gave up for three years. After being kicked to try again, she did. The second draft in, the girl started to see improvements and thought writing wasn’t too bad after all – until seeing that other problems arose in the new draft.
When she whined to her editor, she was told in no uncertain terms that unless the characters and story were fleshed out, she might as well give up because it wasn’t going to get any easier.
The girl in this story was me, back in 2011-2012.
That story was my first attempt at fleshing out Turbulence, which was previously drafted as “The Legend of the Water Viper“. The title alone makes me want to run away. But my first completed draft was god awful. There is no way to sugar coat anything about how ridiculous, unbelievable and Mary Sueish the entire story was.
But I didn’t stop writing 🙂 I’m now seeing improvements and I can show you how to get to this point, too.
As I redid my entire page, I came across the old bios I had for Aviere Mye and wanted to share the evolution of writing character bios.
#1: You’re not going to nail your characters the first time.
Your first draft of your characters is not going to be a walk through the park, God’s gift to all writers or inspire people to instantly fall in love with your character.
Even veterans sometimes have problems fleshing out someone clearly the first time. Let me give you an example of how my main female bio was in 2008. Aviere was the only character I had a bio for, considering she was the lead character. It also shows her old spelling before the editor made me change her name.
When the story begins, Aviare is racing against a man and he is killed in a crash. She doesn’t know that there are gangsters trying to kill her, and subsequently kills them by trying to summon a water typhoon to get rid of the cops that are chasing her for underground street racing. Unfortunately, she ends up destroying the apartment, and proceeds to try to live in the rundown place.
Aviare was placed as the Viper’s leader when her husband left her 8 years ago, and ran the underground street gang. She was his second in command and often had placed first in most races, except against him. Her rivals call her the Water Viper because of her magical abilities, which she has used to save her own hide many times. She also recovered her husband’s car, and drives his blue Ferrari when it is repaired.
There are many things wrong with this character bio and there are no clear, defining traits. She sounds like she’s just a follower because that’s all she used to be. There is no break of individuality and the magic sounds self inserted just to be cool.
So I went back to work. It wouldn’t be until 2012 and letting the story sit that I took another crack at Aviere’s bio.
#2: On your second attempt (usually after your first draft) you will have a clearer purpose of what your characters want to do.
All writers find that during the first, second and third drafts, their characters will not follow a usual outline. This happens for two reasons: they do not have a workable outline that is flexible and their characters are being forced to do something outside their normal behaviors.
People like to be immersed with your characters and want to feel as if your character is doing things for their motivation, benefit and like themselves. When you force a character to do something “just because it’s how the scene should go”, readers will know it is forced. They’ll ask questions on why your character was so wacked out making that decision.
(I’m speaking from personal experience. I’ve gotten that on my Facebook page, emails and comments from betas.)
After finding out that my second draft was horrendous, I took another stab at Aviere’s character bio. I had to, because it was a mess. When people like the antagonist more than your main character, that speaks volumes. So here is Aviere, 2012 version.
A herbalist who specializes in making herbs and potions while street racing to find out what happened to her leader years ago.
A fateful day during the Viper’s prime cost them their leader, who was her husband. When her old team disbands, Aviere reforms it years later with her brothers by her side. But to find out the truth of what happened, she needs to learn the rules of the Underground and what it truly means to risk everything for those she loves. Only her mentor can teach her the rules and how she needs to change to survive.
Here Aviere is more developed. We see that she has a clear goal in her intro sentence, but it’s structured poorly. There are repeat words that disrupt the flow of the blurb and may turn readers away (and I’ve gotten that feedback quite a bit in the past). But there are other things involved, such as what the risk is for her actions, why she is motivated and that this is clearly her decision. No longer is she a follower.
I finished my third draft with that bio, but found other inconsistencies with other characters. I expected that much.
#3: You’re not going to please everyone, but you better be clear enough that your current fans and followers know why they should emotionally invest with your character.
2015 came and I found many writers were looking to me for guidance, despite only ghostwriting and writing blog posts. One major obstacle that writers have are character bios, which was the inspiration for this post. The best method that works for me is to remind myself of my first anime (which ironically is Speed Racer). They always had the same line whenever Racer X was brought on screen:
“Racer X: Speed’s older brother who ran away from home years ago to continue racing.”
I know it’s a cheesy bio but it gets the point across, right?
(Psst…The idea for the series was not from Speed Racer, but if organized crime controlled our national pastimes and persecuted those who were different. Examples are mages, those who oppose the government or shifters, also known as anthropomorphs or shapeshifters. Just a FYI.)
So anyway, I just got a new theme and could do character blurbs. I took another crack at Aviere and it took me less than ten minutes.
The improvement was obvious.
A ex-street racer who practices making medicines and poisons, she reforms her team to find out the truth about her husband’s disappearance.
A fateful day during the Viper’s prime cost Aviere her dream, her friends and her husband. Devastated, her two best friends distanced themselves and started their own teams. After a series of mysterious deaths occur in Charm City, Aviere decides to reform the Vipers with her brothers, Maurice and Limere.
Even if she is the most experienced, she will discover that it takes more than skill to be a great leader and that the rules of the Underground constantly change. With her previous employer pinning her for murder, it’ll take more than previous connections to secure her a sponsor who’s willing to help her grow.
Her new bio pretty much covered the revamps from the rewrite I am doing right now. The scrawled words on her photograph fit the theme of the FBI watching her every move and it can been seen as it being in a “character file”. That was what I wanted for my cast page.
The more important thing is that this bio gives readers a reason to invest in her. Key points are mentioned, such as:
- Aviere’s skillset (racing and making medicine/poisons)
- Her motivation (finding her missing husband)
- Decisions (to reform her own team again to find him)
- Risks (throwing her family into her problem)
- Obstacles (being pinned for murder by her employer and lack of leadership/experience).
Getting it right the first time will never happen.
Writing is a work in progress and always will be until you hit the publish key or submit it to an agent.
Until then, you have time to get your characters right before your readers point out your flaws for you.