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The Importance of Knowing Your Characters

How writing character bios is integral to both the fiction and nonfiction author

Character building is integral to an author's story. Whether fiction or nonfiction, the better you know and understand your characters and the way they act, the better it'll translate in your manuscript and that's the best thing you can do for your readers.

I'm sure most of you understand why this step in the writing process is so important to fiction writing, but I'm sure many of your are still questioning it's vitality when it comes to writing nonfiction. Let me explain.

Characters that are being written into a book need some amount of humanity to come across as real. Even if you're writing a memoir, the people in your book have to be readably real and they have to stand out from many other similarly named and gifted individuals being written into other books in your genre.

This translate in one of two ways:

-A lack of character development, which gets you such characters as the might-as-well-be-painted-on-the-wall damsel, the overdone evil-without-a-reason villain, the chaotic personality that never acts the same way in similar situations, and the random character that probably has lots of information but falls flat because they don't stand out in the scene enough.

-Good character development where your characters all have individual voices, they don't get lost from scene to scene, they spend their time interacting well and have commonplace emotions and reactions to certain situations based on their personalities, and they don't act like every other trope out there.

If you ask me, I'd much rather have the lovable, understandable characters that my readers can relate to.

So, you may be asking how an author might go about building their characters. I've developed many different ways, but here are the basics of my process:

I didn't start seriously character building until I started writing Soulkind. First, it was scanning the Google archives to find the right character bio questions for me. I wanted something that wasn't too long, but also filled in the details I needed, and I ended up finding one that only needed slight tweaking.

The resulting bios for the characters of my book gave me visual details, such as face shape, distinguishing marks, goals, things they do on a rainy day, and the like. Things that may never physically be written into the final manuscript, but I could see them.

And that's an important point to make about this process. The goal of building your characters is to be able to see them. To get into their heads and be able to write the same story from many different angles and with a variety of perspectives. People are not the same and rarely ever think the same in every situation, your characters shouldn't either.

At that point, I decided to start drawing. I have an artistic background, so it was easy for me to pick up. You do not have to do this step, but it makes for excellent marketing material for later.

Sticking with my five major characters, I went on the internet and started looking around for stock photos and pictures of models that partially resembled the characters I was writing about. The result looked something like this:

These were the photos I found that basically resembled Travis and Sabra, two of my main Soulkind characters.

Finally, I had faces to the names and people I'd been dreaming of for years. I adjusted things about them to make them look a little more like what was in my head, and took to my sketchbook.

Finished, beautiful marketing material.

Once again, this can be used in the nonfiction realm, too. Say you are actually writing a memoir and one of your cousins is one of the main characters. How well do you know your cousin? What is their primary goal throughout your book? All characters should have some kind of motivation for their actions.

All characters should have some kind of motivation for their actions.

The more you engage your own five senses within your characters, the more real they'll be for everyone else. Make a point to give us something worth reading.

Finally, many people come to me feeling stuck in the middle of their work. It's a common issue for authors, and it can usually be remedied with some more plot/character development. When in doubt, add conflict, introduce a new characters, change the scene, or if it's not going anywhere, delete the scene all together and start writing from somewhere else.

If it feels flat to you, chances are that it's going to be even worse for your readers. Bring out the jazz hands, add a little pizzazz. And, as always, happy writing.


Lexi Mohney is a self published author and a book coach living in Ann Arbor, MI. Throughout her writing and coaching career, she's lived by the motto of courage and worked with her own coaches, groups, and support system to see her Big Audacious Dreams come true so she can help others achieve success, too. She currently has a novel up for an award that will be determined in June, and is in the process of querying agents for her latest novel, Soulkind, which is the first in the Soul Hunter Series. For any and all questions pertaining to her work, contact her through her website or find her on social media.

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