As I said yesterday, this blog post was originally posted on my ZB Publications blog, but it is about Other Systems so I reposted it here too.
Like many authors, I do keep a character Bible and I fully admit there are lots of ways to write character descriptions, but this is how I do it.
Step 1: who is this guy/gal? And what purpose do they serve in the story. If you cannot answer this question: this person is not a character to your novel. If they are just a waiter or the delivery person, you need to decide if they are important enough to even have a character sheet.
So I am going to show you how I built Harden Alekos in Other Systems. (Note: there are no spoilers here, everything that fact that the description says you discover in the prologue!!!)
Step 1: Physical Description
World Facts for Other Systems: Due to gene modification and therapies there is three separate species of human on Kipos. While some people have facial features that might show ancestry, nearly everyone of all three species of human has tan/light brown skin, brown or black hair, etc. Eyes in shades of Gold, Hazel, Brown, Black common. Blue eyes extremely rare. Green eyes extinct in Homo kiposi and the Homo garo, recessive gene in Homo khlôrosan.
Now back to Harden who is a Homo khlôrosan.
Species specific description: Tan skin with embedded microscales. Gold eyes, Nearly no body hair except of heat centers
Personal description: Tall, but slender. Wiry. Due to body type and the way he smiles, he reminds people of his mom. Slouches. Paternal Ancestry (from Earth): Greece, Maternal: French and English.
(To get an image in ones mind: Adrian Brody in Splice. But not Predators, he buffed up too much for that movie. Or if you are local to Seattle: Sam at Mr. Gyros. Dang, does that guy make a good gyro!)
Clothing: On ship: coveralls over a t-shirt, on leave: coveralls over a t-shirt. Only times he dresses up is for off-ship dinners. Slacks, and a button down shirt and a jacket. No jewelry or tie. His underwear choices are not applicable for my story, so I don’t worry about it.
Step 2: Naming: Once I know what they look like and their ancestry, I begin the naming process which I described in the last blog.
Step 3: Character Description: Introverted. Has trouble relating to new people, doesn’t know how to make small talk. In social situations, he leans heavily on others. Loves puzzles.
Education: Doctorate level in Physics and Engineering
Job: Planetary Survey Team.
Virtues: Loyal, honest. Loves his crew/family.
Vices: nearly constant swearing, can’t quite give up smoking.
Step 4: Relationships:
Parents: Cole Alekos and Rosemary Finch. Raised by Mom, but after parents separate, she is a radio transmission. Loving, but slightly cold relationship with Dad
Siblings: Sister, Helen (originally -14 months) also due to the solitary lifestyle of space explorers: she is his closest friend.
Brother Mark (-15 years) He loves his little brother, but huge age gap is problematic for friendship. Falls into a mentor role.
Offspring: Sterilized. Only offspring terminated.
Romantic Relationships: Primarily Heterosexual. Married young. Marriage ended upon her death.
(Note: in the actual character sheet there is more here, I just am not giving up anything not in the prologue.)
Okay, now while I think things like favorite music or color is irrelevant (except when it is relevant to the story) there are a few important things you can ask yourself and afterwords you will always know how the character will behave.
Step 5: Important Questions:
How does he get out of trouble?
Intelligence. never violence.
Relationship Trail with Protagonist:
Since this would give away a subplot for Other Systems, I am not going to answer this, but all writers should think about it. Every single relationship has a trail it follows. Not only will it help with character interactions, it is generally a subplot to the story.
To write a relationship trail consider:
First Reactions to the Protagonist
Protagonist’s first reaction to character
Major events that turn each character toward or away from each other
An easy romantic example is the “classic boy meets girl”, boy and girl falls in love, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again and they get married and live mostly-happily ever after.
An easy non-romantic example: When I was born, I needed my mother to nourish and protect me. When I became a little girl, my mother still had to nourish and protect me, but now was also the loving authority in my life. She had to teach and make decisions for me too. As I grew older I got more freedom along with more responsibilities. I fought her, but she never stopped being my mom. When I moved out, we became friends. It is possible that someday our roles will revert if I became injured and could no longer take care of my self or reverse as she ages.
So there you have it. An afternoon of work and I have a full fledged character and at least one subplot figured out. Woot!
For the other writers, out there, what other things do you find useful for building your characters?