The Importance of Writing a Character Biography

I’ve always felt the characters I created were real. The situations I’ve thrown them in really had me empathizing with them. Whenever they cried, I cried. Whenever they were sad, I was sad. I’m not sure if I can even put it into fathomable words. The connection I feel with them is real. It is beyond real. To me, they genuinely feel like real people who happen to be going through  very real situations. (No I’m not cray cray).

I was editing one of my scripts and realized I knew my characters in the story I have written, but not as well as I’d like to. By that, I meant I knew who my characters were from page 1 to 114; from beginning to end, but I didn’t feel I knew them outside of the script. I still felt that deep connection with my characters, but felt I didn’t know them as much as I’d like to. I found myself questioning some of the decisions my main character made in the movie. I asked myself, what would he do and why? What is he like as a person? Why is he like that? What made him that way? So I took Syd Field’s advice and wrote a character biography for my characters. Let me tell you, it was one of the greatest experiences.

A character biography is a free-association writing exercise that reveals your character’s history from birth up until the time your story begins. In the book, The Screenwriter’s Workbook by Syd Field, he has a whole chapter titled The Tools of Character, where he talks about creating back story for your character. He breaks it into the first ten years of the character’s life, then the second ten years, then (if applicable) the third ten years. He provides a sundry of questions about your character’s life, some as basic as is your character male or female, where do they live, where were they born. He then goes into more technical questions such as who were your character’s friends growing up, what sexual experiences did they have, if their parents were divorced or not, etc. Of course you can ask your character any question in the world and use it in your biography.

This is a great tool to better understand your character. I now now my characters 100% more than I did before. While writing my character biography, I didn’t even have to brainstorm or hesitate, it honestly came out all natural as if this information was bona fide. I feel I know my characters so much better and you will have a better understanding of who they are and why they do the things they do. So I challenge you to write a bio for your characters. Trust me, it’s life changing. Yeah, me and my characters are closer than ever. I am vicariously living through them, okay? Don’t judge.


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