Before Your First Draft – Part 3 – Biographies

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Here’s where we are so far with this series:

What you should know before you write – the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of prep

Part 1 – Logline

Part 2 – Brainstorming and Research

In terms of the several steps before writing a first draft,  one of my most favorite things before writing any story is establishing my hero’s backstory: getting to get to know my main character. An ‘imaginary friend’ that, once conceived, would remain with me forever. Or at least the period of time it takes to write his story –  a few months, six months, a year and so on.  Sometimes, more than the protagonist biography, I get more excited about my antagonist but the point is: a story, in my opinion cannot fully function and be written well without characters you LOVE to drive it. Regarding how to write these, I usually write them in short story/treatment form starting with the very basic details. (A quick note: you can also go point-form, ask interview questions or combine all three methods, whatever it takes to dig into your characters)

So, without further ado, here are some pointers on writing your hero’s biography. These can also be used for other characters:

• Start right from the the time they are born – or before, as far back as you can go (if they are not human, the start of their lives). Depending on the character, I also like to do this in first-person, like you are reading their diary entry. Include details of their parentage, where or how they were born, relationships with their families.

• Establish what their core is. For example (hypothetically),  ‘Mr. Lickety Split is a poor ice cream maker in love with the richest girl in town.’ Conceiving a good logline also helps you here in terms of figuring out the rough direction you want your character to go.

• Establish the character’s ‘want’ and ‘need’. What a character wants when the story starts, what a character actually needs by the end (Mr Lickety Split wants the rich girl, what he needs is to be secure with himself and find someone who loves him for who he is).

• Go where your character takes you. However if you find yourself getting a bit lost in the details, focus on the most important pieces of their lives (happiest, saddest, most influential moments).

• Establish why the story happens to the specific character at this particular time (so in Mr. Lickety Split’s case, when the story starts, he is a high school junior whose motivation to make some summer money is so he can afford to take the rich girl out on dates)

• Establish their emotional, psychological landscape: who they are, their best and worst traits, what they like/dislike, why they feel and experience things the particular way they do when the story starts. I tend to focus on their temperaments and general emotional state when they encounter people and situations.  Figuring out the protagonists’ insecurities also helps me form the conflicts that he encounters on his own as well as with the nemesis (who represents my protagonist’s insecurities).

• The range of this biography can go all the way from before they are born to just the beginning of story, and further if needed.

• Speaking of conflicts and insecurities, zone in on these.

The more details you can muster on all your characters, the better. However, considering I do have a time limit and  don’t want to take forever doing these, the ones I stick to are the main ones – always the protagonist, nemesis, mentor and love interest (if there is one). Depending on the need as I go along, I also put together mini-bios for the parents, families, friends and any other new character that crop up. Go Into Your Story has a great section and tips on some of these steps as well. I encourage you to visit it.

Hope you are enjoying the trip so far. Next week: the Treatment.

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