In the first two parts of this series, I wrote about ways to manage the characters of a novel. I discussed
- the details about your characters you should define and
- tools for handling the characters’ data.
I also mentioned that it is useful to write a biography for each character. While it is a lot of work, there are certain benefits.
How does a biography help?
The more you know about a character, the better you can work with him or her. Here are two simple examples:
- A masterful character as Lady Lindford will act differently than an indolent one (see my post Getting to know your characters).
- The life experience of a character will influence his/her behaviour. This is also true for the life of your novel’s characters.
If you know precisley who each of your character is,
- it is easier to have him/her act in a credible way and
- you can shape your dialogues better.
All in all, the potential for humour or drama is boosted.
Example and Quiz
Here is an example of how to combine the biography in the list of characteristics (see the first post of this series). The information is of a historic person and describes events up to the year 1815. I have deleted the name of the person (of course!), the date of birth and some other names. Thus, our list of characteristics has turned into a quiz.
Here is your challenge: Who is “Mr X”?
Birthday: xx. xx. 17xx / London.
- Figure: tall, straight and upright in carriage
- Countenance: His steps are short and firm, his approach cheerful, almost dashing
- Hair: black and straight, parted in the centre
- Eyes: brown, brilliant, reflective, kind and gay, with a look of observant humor
- Eyebrows: black
- Mouth: large and hard, with a long upper lip
- Chin: retreating
- Specifics of speech: tends to make little inarticulate ejaculations
- Specifics of health: shortsighted; often plays the invalid
- As a schoolboy, he stammers and is shy. His poems are despised and ridiculed by his teachers. From being bullied at school, X has a deep-seated sense of injustice.
- He has a gift for friendship, is flippant, informal and tends to the ludicrous.
- X owns exuberant fantasy and extraordinary linguistic skills.
- He likes Chaucer’s verse style, adapted to English, and loves Italian literature for its colour and imaginative sensual experience.
- Not being good with money; friends often have to save him from ruin. He returns their favours by writing about them in his papers.
- His lifelong habits are flirting and playing the invalid.
- He does not like physical contests.
He is the youngest son and the second youngest of 9 children. His parents had come to England from Philadelphia in the late 1770ies.
He meets his future wife, Mary Anne, in 1801. They marry in 1809. Their first child, a son, is born in 1810, followed by a son in 1812 and a daughter in 1813.
1791 to 1799: Christ’s Hospital in London. X can’t go to university, as he suffers from a speech impediment (his stammering was later cured).
- After schooling, X spends some time visiting his school-fellows, haunting the book-stalls and writing verses.
- In 1801 his poems are published for the first time, thus introducing him into literary and theatrical society. He continues to write, e.g. a tragedy, a farce and a comedy.
- From 1803, he starts working as a clerk in the law office of his brother, A.
- In the same year, rumors about an invasion of England lead X to volunteer. Due to good connections, he becomes a clerk in the war office. The work as a clerk does not prevent him from his writing. He contributes theater critics and articles for several magazines.
- In 1808, X quits the war office and joins a new project of his brother B, a printer. B founds the newspaper Y, which advocates abolition of the slave trade, catholic emancipation, and reform of parliament and the criminal law. X becomes the editor of Y.
- From 1810–1811 he additionally edits a quarterly magazine, the Z.
In conflict with the law:
1812 an article attacking the Prince Regent results in prosecution of X and B. They are trialed in December and sentence of two years’ imprisonment. X is imprisoned at the Surrey County Gaol from 1813 to 1815. He continues writing for Y in prison and bears his imprisonment with stoicism, thus attracting general attention and sympathy. He is often visited by Lord Byron.
Who is X?
Who is A?
Who is B?
What is the name of Y?
What is the name of Z?
Write your answers in the comment field below. There are glory and honour to gain – as well as the fun of solving a quiz.