Biographies and Character Evolution: A Head Start?

Bugs Bunny

A goal of writing is to evolve our characters.  If they are the same at the end of their adventure as they were at the beginning then we missed something.  Even if they go back home, there needs to be a change.  We call it an evolution or development, but know that it isn’t always an advancement.  Some characters may end an adventure in a bad position, but they have changed.  That is the point.  Now, how can character biographies help with this?

Again, we’re talking about pre-writing planning here.  So, if you aren’t going to do that then this probably won’t help you.  It’s possible to do it in your head, but that doesn’t guarantee that things will stick.  With a biography, you can have permanent notes in regards to where you want the character to go.  You define their role in the story and show where they have come from.  It’s the basis of everything that is about to happen and lead to an evolution.  Without this foundation, you might be working on shaky ground and the evolution can be clunky or unnatural.  Key word there is ‘might’ because some people can keep it all together or have tools to help with that.

It’s up to the author to decide how specific to be with these parts of a biography.  Some will give a general idea or a variety of choices.  Others will write it out to the letter and never stray from the concept.  Depending on the length of your story or series, it’s difficult to pull off that last option.  You may have to go in stages or state the changes in each book.  For example, I had to make notes for Mab’s evolution in War of Nytefall.  I couldn’t go into details because I didn’t know exactly how I would do her addiction storyline.  All I could do was make note of how bad it was and if people knew about it within each book.  The rest had to be developed in real-time since evolution is partially influenced by interacting with other characters.  This means the biography can only bring you so far and may work best as guidelines.

Of course, you don’t have to go along with your initial idea.  Things always change when you start writing.  A better evolution may come to mind or the original plan can go against the main plot of the story.  You could have intersecting evolutions that negate or damage all characters involved too.  Never think that these biographies are written in stone because they are merely a jumping point.  Sticking to this can harm the evolutions, which damages both the characters and overall story.  Audiences connect with your heroes and villains, so you need their growth to feel natural.  An idea that you come up with at first may work, but it will probably need some level of tweaking as you move along.  This is an inevitable part of author life.

So, what do you think about biographies and getting a general idea of a character evolution?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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15 Responses to Biographies and Character Evolution: A Head Start?

  1. In answer to your question, I think character bios might be useful. I haven’t written any down and carry them in my head. However, there are times when I wish I had some written bios to keep track of the past. I may start. Thanks to you, that is.

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  2. L. Marie says:

    Great post and tips! And I appreciate the reminder to allow characters to grow and change. Though I’ve written bios, I’m always amazed at how my characters change in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Maybe that sounds strange to those who believe an author always is in control, so why shouldn’t I know what’s happening? But sometimes, I approach the end of a story and I see growth I hadn’t planned for.

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  3. I like your concept of being flexible. Once we build some parameters, the story has to mold to fit what’s been created. It’s easier to be open to those modifications than it is to go back and rewrite the early parameters. Also, once we know our characters a bit more, the result is usually better than the first plan.

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  4. As Darwin said… survival is about adaptation. Another awesome post, friend!

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  5. I think the more important the character is to the story, the more helpful their biography will be. But even with minor characters, if you know some of their background you can figure out things like why they’re helping the heroes (or not). And with the heroes specifically, you definitely can broaden the character and even develop ideas for subplots based on the biography.

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  6. This post got my brain twirling. Now I want to write biographies about so many characters in my series, but there’s not enough years in a mortal human life time to do so. Vervetts’ average lifespan is over a hundred 437 26-hour day years, and grungols Live well into their 200’s.

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