Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Character Bibles

by Julie Coulter Bellon

First of all, my book, Dangerous Connections was reviewed on Meridian Magazine today (along with some other books). Go check it out here

Thank you to everyone who commented on last week’s blog. We didn’t have chicken mesh on our floors, thank goodness, but we did have layers of mess that have been more than difficult to deal with, that’s for sure. As for character bibles, Jeff Savage would be the best one to address this topic, since he teaches a class and a hands-on workshop about it, but as I have attended his class, I will attempt to explain what a character bible is. (If Jeff is reading this, feel free to jump in, or do a blog series on it. I loved the class!)

A character bible is an in-depth look at the characters in your book. It’s more than a character sketch, and is something that includes a lot of info that will probably never make it into your book, but is worth it's weight in gold. For example, you have all the basics, your character lives in the big city, but was always a country girl at heart. You know what she looks like---long brown hair with a beauty mark just above her top lip. She’s tall and has always been self-conscious about that, and she hates lettuce. Is she an only child? Does she have any talents or phobias? Does she have a pet? What’s her job? All these little details are important and add to your bible, but a complete character bible goes deeper than that. What motivates your character deep down? What’s her inner turmoil, her private diary-like story that governs the decisions she’s making today? What is really keeping her, both externally and internally, from achieving her goals and dreams? What is she bringing to your story? As the author, you have the ability to get to know your characters deeply and well, and the character bible is just writing what you know about them and thinking about what you don’t know about them so you can write it all down and have it for future reference and still allow room for your character to grow and surprise you.

For example, one of my character bibles is about a character in my book whose job is an international arms dealer. He has dark hair, he is meticulous about his looks and physique, he enjoys fine dining and fine women, and is very charming. He speaks four languages, but he prefers English and attended boarding school in London. He is very security conscious and guards his private life closely. Those are some of my basics. But if we look further, we find that he has a father who abandoned him at a young age and he was forced to grow up very quickly when his mother became ill. He loves architecture and history and knows a lot of trivia about French architecture in particular. At one point, he wanted to be an architect, but needed money for his mother’s treatment so he gave up his dreams, got hooked up into the criminal underworld and tries not to look back and feel regret. He doesn’t trust easily because of his abandonment issues and doesn’t do commitment well. He contributes to a lot of children’s charities to help assuage his conscience that sometimes overcomes his business-like attitude.

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the picture by now. And when you combine all of your character bibles, sometimes what you get surprises you. The particular character I described above really did a 180 in my book because once I realized what his true motivations were, I was able to write him more true to form in situations that hadn’t been working for me. And his other interactions with my main characters began to take a more definite shape because his backstory was there for me to refer to and rely upon. It was invaluable to my novel.

So, to sum up, the character bible was my foundation for the people in my book. As I got to know them, their story just jumped off the page and intertwined itself with arcs and subplots that I hadn’t thought of before I’d done the character bible. It’s an exercise that is totally worth your time as an author and can provide details and story ideas that you hadn’t thought of before. It’s a piece to the puzzle and adds detail and depth to your writing and I think once you do one, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it can be to fit everything together. You’ll wonder how you ever wrote without it!

*Disclaimer—Not every writer will like character bibles or do them. I’ve tried them, I’m fascinated by what they have added to my writing, and they work for me, so that’s why I mentioned them here.


At 5/20/2010 6:35 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Great blog, Julie. Thanks for the info! Sounds like a great way to develop characters. And congrats on that great Meridian review! Your book is sitting right here in my to-read-soon pile.

At 5/20/2010 9:32 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Great blog as usual, Julie. I'm wondering though if you and Stephanie are the only frog bloggers left. lol

At 5/21/2010 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where can I go to read your first chapter or so online and get a feel for your latest novel?

At 5/21/2010 4:41 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks, Stephanie and Jennie. Sometimes I wonder if maybe the rest of the frog blog is off partying together and somehow Stephanie and I didn't get the invite. Haha. But I'm glad for our faithful followers.

Anon, you can read my first chapter on my website I've been debating putting up my second chapter, but for now, only my first one is there. Thanks for the interest! :)

At 5/21/2010 5:41 PM, Blogger T.J. said...

I wish I could have attended Jeff's workshop on character bibles. He did one at The Book Academy in September, which I missed. And then I tried to sign up for it at Storymakers, but it was full. One day I should just pay him to do a presentation of character bibles for me. Knowing me, I'll somehow miss it.


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