Using a Character Bible – Is it worth it?


As I embark on my next writing venture after a 2020 hiatus, I realized something. The equation of my age plus the stress of 2020 and the length of time since I’ve written a Frank Rozzani book has added up to me forgetting the details of many of my familiar characters. I remember reading a while back about having a character bible, a book of character profiles. The article I read talked about how this is especially important if you write a multiple-book series with the same characters.

At the time, I said to myself, “I’ll never forget these characters. They’re part of me.” Well, as I get older, I’m pretty sure there are actual parts of me that I’ve forgotten.

As I try to write for my tried and true characters, I find myself searching my previous books for things like dates, names, hair and eye color and other things that would be great to have at my fingertips. As a result, I’m revisiting the idea of the character bible. I thought that one useful resource would be to go to the blogging community of authors, editors and readers and ask for your opinions and experience.

I thought I would begin, however, by telling you what I’ve learned about this tool for those of you that haven’t heard of it or have been using elements of it without realizing it had a name.

What is a Character Bible?

There is no single definition or series of components that make up a character bible. From the research I’ve done, it’s basically a collection of character profiles each of which tell you about the character’s:

  • Name – This might seem obvious, but a character’s name is important. Think of Alex Cross and the numerous James Patterson books bearing his surname in the title. To a much, much lesser degree, of course, there are my Frank Rozzani detective novels that all have ‘Frank’ in some form in the title Frankly Speaking, Let Me Be Frank, Frank Incensed (my personal favorite), Frankly My Dear and Frank Immersed.
  • Physical Appearance/Mannerisms – The characters height, body type, hair color, eye color, physical anomalies and disabilities and other information about how the character looks.
  • History – Information about the character’s backstory, cultural, educational and socio-economic situation and any other relevant information that is material to the plot.
  • Personality – What psychological quirks, conditions or flaws does the character have? What motivates him/her? What are his/her desires? What’s missing from his/her life?

Now, the worst thing you can do is dump all of this information about the character into your story in one fell swoop. You can dribble out the information as needed in small doses. The other thing to avoid, however, is your character developing some ability or piece of knowledge from his background out of convenience to get you past a snag in the story without foreshadowing it first.

What characters should be in the Character Bible?

Again, there is no universal agreement on this, but characters you can consider are those that are pivotal to the story and more than just one-dimensional “fillers” like:

  • Protagonist – The main character or hero of your story.
  • Antagonist The villain or anti-hero of your story.
  • Love Interest – The person that makes your protagonist’s heart flutter.
  • Sidekick – The Robin to your character’s Batman.
  • Supporting Characters – Those colorful folks in the background that give humor, expertise and other key elements to your story.
  • Sub-Plot Characters – The stars of those little vignettes that advance your story through the actions of secondary characters.

It’s up to you, the author, how many character profiles you put in your Character Bible. If you’re a John Grisham or James Patterson type, you probably have less than a half-dozen characters to keep straight. If you’re a Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or J.R.R. Tolkien type writer, buy a few notebooks to fill.

Tools for Creating A Character Bible

There are several templates out there for you to create the character profiles that will become part of your character bible. I’ve selected some here to give you an idea of what’s out there:

Reedsy Character Profile

For those of you that belong to Reedsy, or even if you don’t, the site offer’s a character profile template separated into various sections. An image of the first page is shown below:

Courtesy of http://www.reedsy.com

As you can see, it’s pretty straightforward and guides you through the information that makes up the profile. I see pros and cons in the level of detail. I tend to only think about what I need to know about my characters, but I suppose the additional information, much of which you’ll never use in the story, might help you get a more accurate picture of what motivates him or her.

Filestage Character Bio Template

Filestage is another online site offering a character bio template in a spreadsheet format. It does have some nuances that the Reedsy template doesn’t cover, but the spirit is the same. I suppose you can create multiple tabs to add additional characters. Here is a snapshot of what it looks like:

Internet Writing Journal

Another character profile format appears on the Internet Writing Journal site. Again, it has much of the same information and you can pick and choose how much of it you’d like to use.

Conclusion

It’s entirely up to you if you want to create a character bible. I’m headed in that direction with my latest Frank Rozzani book so I can make the current book and any additional sequels more manageable.

I’d love to hear from you on your experience with this technique. Have you used it? Have you thought about it? How do you keep your characters straight?

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

42 thoughts on “Using a Character Bible – Is it worth it?

  1. Excellent post, Don! Thanks for the links to various character bibles, too. I’m going to take a look at some of these.

    I find myself in a similar situation, after a largely unproductive and uninspiring 2020, except that I only WISH I could forget some actual parts of me. (Getting old can be painful.) 😀

    I didn’t keep any notes at all for my first book or two in each of my two main series and regret that now, especially with secondary characters. I’ve started some “character sheets” to rectify the problem, but they’ve been languishing in an ignored folder on my desktop. I simply must either finish them, or download something more structured, like your examples above. Either way, while I’ve forgotten some of the details, those are just the kind of things many readers would definitely notice.

    You’ve inspired me to get busy and take care of this issue. Soon! I’d really like to publish at least a couple of novellas this year, and do not want to make theses kinds of preventable mistakes. Thanks for a timely post (at least for me), and some good ideas! Sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:
    Brand new year, brand new chance to work on a new book. But you might want to check out Don Massenzio’s timely post on Character Bibles first. I know some of you are diligent about this, but for those (like me) who have been careless in this regard, Don’s post is a good place to start thinking about getting organized so you don’t forget those important details from earlier books. Check it out, and then please consider passing it along so others get the reminder, too. Thanks, and thanks to Don for giving me a nudge in the right direction. Great post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a helpful post, Don. Thank you! I’ve not created a character bible, but had I done so, I would have saved myself precious time. All the best, and thank you once again!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent post and great resources, Don. I taught for thirty-one years, and sometimes I’ll look back at old yearbooks, thinking, “I wish I kept some notes about that student.”

    Like

  5. Great minds, and all that… – this is exactly what I’ve been working on today.
    I DO keep a character bible (simple notes in a Word Doc), but I’m woefully lax about updating it. Now I’m well into book #4 of my epic fantasy series, and finding I’ve not kept notes about some minor characters I want to bring back from earlier books. At the time of writing, I didn’t envisage them having recurring roles, but now I’ve learned better.
    I don’t plan on making that mistake again!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I discovered this on Marcia’s blog The Write Stuff, and I’m so glad I did! I’ve wanted to use character bibles before, but I didn’t know where to start. Thank you for sharing these resources, it’s greatly appreciated!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is a great post. I haven’t had to delve too deep, because many of my books are solo titles. I’ve always taken the lazy way, but it’s expanded as I get into series work. Mine are more like movie credits. I have a name, a few details, and not a lot more. So far, I haven’t had any major problems, but the Lanternfish series has pushed me to the edge. It has a lot of characters and finding a way to wrap things up for them is challenging.

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  8. I’ve used variations on these, and I particularly like prompts like ‘Favourite childhood toy’ and ‘secret (s)he doesnt want anyone to know.’

    I think more important for the author of a series is to add things the character let slip during earlier books. I had to rewrite several chapters of one book because the character seemed to have had a complete personality transplant.

    These days, if there’s been a gap, I have to read the previous books again, making notes of anything relevant to the plan for the new one.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My books are all standalones but, particularly recently, there have been long delays between writing periods. When motivated, I waste the time and energy for writing in checking up on details. I’ll certainly look into using one of the options that you mention in this timely piece – thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Using a Character Bible – Is it worth it? – Written By Don Massenzio – Writer's Treasure Chest

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