Character bios are essential for creating believable characters.
Understand that the characters in your story are a major hook. They carry the plot and stick with readers. They are often the reason why a reader enjoys a story and even recommends it to a friend.
So, how do you write a compelling character bio, one that will help you craft realistic, believable, and engaging characters for your readers to enjoy? This article will explain how to do just that.
How to write a character bio
Below we’ve included a list of questions to serve as a character bio template.
Answering these questions about your character will help you gain insight into that character’s depths, feelings, perspectives, goals, hopes, dreams, weaknesses, desires, and other aspects that will inform the plot development.
1. Name, age, nationality
Let’s start with the basics—outline basic but essential details about your character, such as their name, age, and nationality. Defining the geographical background is still important even if your characters live in a fictional world on another planet.
Consider the relevance of the above details.
Where did their name come from? Were they named after a relative, or does their name have something to do with the circumstances of their birth?
Are they mature for their age? How does their birthplace influence other parts of their lives?
Even though the above details are the most basic aspects of your character, they can still offer rich insight.
2. Physical appearance and characteristics
Well-defined physical characteristics help readers visualize your character, making a more engaging and immersive reading experience. Consider:
- Hair and eye color
- Unique facial features (scars, moles, etc.)
- Skin tone
Explore why a character looks the way they do.
What features exist that are not from birth? If your character has a scar, how did they get it? If they have an extra large nose or acne, how do they feel about it?
What does their style say about them as a person, and how important is their style to them? Do they have short fingernails because they bite them?
Character preferences help you take a step further in understanding your character.
Even if these preferences don’t show up in the actual story, knowing about them will help you visualize and craft a rich character, and your insightful relationship with whom will help you keep writing the story. Consider your characters’:
- Favorite food
- Favorite Music
- Favorite color
- Political views and opinions
- Religious views
- Favorite book/movie genre
- Clothing/style preferences and goals
- Favorite way to relax
- Favorite type of people
4. Health status
Consider your character’s health. That includes both physical and mental health. Their health status will inform other aspects of their life, such as their energy levels, worldview, and hopes and dreams for the future.
- Are they generally healthy?
- Do they have any diseases?
- Do they smoke/drink/use other drugs?
- Are they calm or stressed?
- Do they exercise much? How much?
- How is their diet? Do they follow a healthy one? Do they under/overeat?
- Could they successfully escape if being chased?
- How does their health relate to their physical appearance?
Consider your character’s career and education. These may or may not be relevant to the particular story you’re writing, but these details and others may become relevant at some point in the story, so it’s wise to have an existing idea of them.
- Did your character study? If so, what did they study? Do they have a career in that field?
- What’s their job?
- Do they like their job? What aspects of their personality help them succeed at work?
- Do they prioritize their job, or are other parts of their life more important?
- What’s their level of education?
- Does their education level affect their choices and success in their life as per the story?
- Do they have any notable career achievements?
6. Personality Traits
- Are they motivated?
- Are they open or closed to new experiences?
- Do they act the same way around everyone, or do they change around particular people?
- Are they more optimistic or pessimistic?
- Introvert, extrovert, or ambivert?
- Are they kind or nasty?
- What skills and strengths do they possess?
- What are their flaws?
- Do they keep any secrets?
- Do they have any regrets?
- How do they approach challenges and obstacles?
- Are they confident in themselves?
- Do they prioritize self-care?
- Do they take risks?
- Are they spontaneous?
To further flesh out your character’s personality traits. Consider the Big Five personality traits outlined below. These are:
Your character’s relationships are highly formative. These include their parental, platonic, and romantic relationships and their connections with authority figures in their adult life.
How one relates to others says a lot about their character, so invest time into fleshing out your character’s relationship dynamics and attitudes.
- Does your character have a romantic partner? Boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife?
- How does the character feel about their parents? How is that relationship? If their parents are no longer around, do they have any regrets about that relationship?
- Do they have siblings, or are they an only child?
- What’s their support system like when they face stress or trouble? Do they have a family to rely on? Close friends?
- Does your character have many close friends? Are they a socialite, or is their social circle small? How do they feel about people in general?
- Has your character had any romantic relationships in the past that shaped who they are today? In what ways did that relationship shape them?
- Who is their best friend?
- What do they love about their romantic partner?
- Who does your character turn to in times of crisis?
- How is your character’s sense of trust in others? Do they find it easy or hard to trust people?
Bonus miscellaneous character questions
Add these questions to your character template to gain even deeper insight into who they are:
- What is your character’s greatest achievement?
- Which of your character’s traits will change in the story? And what will remain the same?
- What are the main aspects of your character’s story that have made them who they are, where if those aspects are different, they may be a different person?
- How would your character describe their own life at the beginning of the book?
- What biases does your character hold?
- What are some of your character’s core beliefs, and how did those beliefs form?
- Who is your character’s biggest inspiration?
- What does your character’s typical day look like before the story’s main events?
What is a character bio?
A character biography, also known as a character profile, is a type of character development aid that covers a character’s life story (or background), physical characteristics, personality traits, and strengths and weaknesses.
A character’s bio helps the author fit your character into the overall story, whereby they make decisions and react to events based on their pre-defined traits and characteristics.
A bio helps you stay on track regarding a character’s arc as you write the story.
Many authors visualize several potential story arcs and trajectories in the writing process. As such, having a framework like a character bio or a general novel outline helps you take the story from A to B with a consistent and coherent narrative rather than a story full of sprawling trajectories that don’t take the reader anywhere in particular.
Creating one for each of your characters is essential when writing character bios. Naturally, you may focus more on fleshing out your protagonist, but don’t neglect other characters.
There are no small roles because each of your characters plays a vital role in the story. As such, they deserve to be well-written.
Character breakdown example
A character breakdown is a brief character description.
It is not their complete profile but a description of that character in just a few sentences.
In writing a story, a character breakdown can help you create a basic outline for your character, after which you can interview and investigate to flesh them out further.
Consider the following character breakdown examples:
Mrs. Dursley – Harry Potter and The Sorceror’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)
Mr. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large mustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbors.
Mama Bekwa Tataba – The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
Mama Bekwa Tataba stood watching us—a little jet-black woman. Her elbows stuck out like wings, and a huge white enameled tub occupied the space above her head, somewhat miraculously holding steady while her head moved in quick jerks to the right and left.
For such an extraordinary athlete—even as a Lower Middler, Phineas had been the best athlete in the school—he was not spectacularly built. He was my height—five feet eight and a half inches…He weighed a hundred and fifty pounds, a galling ten pounds more than I did, which flowed from his legs to torso around shoulders to arms and full strong neck in an uninterrupted, unemphatic unity of strength.
Consider a memoir or a psychology book with case studies.
The fact that the subjects exist in real life is not enough for a reader to engage. Authors still need to flesh out these characters and bring them to life on the page.
Answering the questions in the bio template will help you add dimension to your characters so that whether you write fiction or nonfiction, readers will connect with and resonate with your characters.
Give careful consideration and do a diligent investigation of your characters if you want them to stand out and be remembered.
Character development is a key part of the creative writing process and should not be overlooked.
The more you flesh out a character with investigative questions and formative answers. The more you’ll notice that your character takes on a life of their own and seems to exist beyond the page.