Hey, you’re back! Excellent. Good to know I didn’t scare off everybody with the rambliness of that last post. (Or the subliminal messages. Those are still in the testing phase.) Last week, we briefly flirted with the concept of character bibles, and as promised, that’s what we’re going to talk about today!
I know, you’re all very excited. Contain yourselves, please. Put your trousers back on. Yes, you. Over there, with the mustache. Come on, now. There are ladies present.
When we first started work on Steamworks & Shadows, one of the very first things we did was sit down and write a character bible for each and every member of the crew as well as some of the antagonists, such as Colt and Marie. At its core, a character bible is little more than an in-depth questionnaire. It’s meant for the writer to answer such important questions as:
- What is important to my character?
- What are my character’s goals in life?
- What are my character’s flaws and weaknesses?
- What are the important events in my character’s history?
- Does my character prefer ham or turkey sandwiches?
Some of us had already written out a character summary in the past, which was essentially just a few pages of us writing out the story as we knew it, but what the character bible excels at is making sure that the most important stuff is brought to the forefront. We’re not the only ones who do this, either. Battlestar Galactica has one of the best-written and most well-structured character and series bibles out there, to the point where it’s typically considered to be the gold standard. Batman: The Animated Series did the same thing. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Notice a pattern, here? These aren’t just flash-in-the-pan shows. These are widely regarded as some of the best television programs in history. HISTORY.
So that’s what a character bible is. Now, the question is, why do it in the first place? Answer: It makes things a hell of a lot easier when it gets to be time for your writers to sit down and write.
A good character bible should not only inspire you to think about your character, but it should also inspire others to think about your character. I, in my opinion, do my best writing when I’m doing a character-driven story. Having the character bibles of the fine folks in Steamworks & Shadows allows me to find particular events, misgivings, and possibilities for stories that could take up anything from one episode to potentially an entire season arc.
I had the opportunity to speak with a couple of great people at Dodecacon this past weekend about story writing and character development both in panels and just in the time between panels and showing, and one of the questions I got was “We have all these great characters, but what do we do about a story?” Simple answer – the characters are the story. A well-written, well-thought out character has, quite literally, an entire lifetime’s worth of stories. Is your character a powerful businessman? If so, what did it take for him to get to the place he is today? Is your character an adventuress? Where has she gone and who has she worked with? Those questions present new options and new possible events in his or her backstory that could be explored in an episode or an arc.
In the case of the adventuress, maybe she found some priceless relic in Borneo and donated it to a museum only to, several years later, find out that she’s now made an enemy of an entire tribe due to the fact that she unknowingly stole one of their most important religious artifacts. In the case of the businessman, maybe he borrowed money to start his company and the lenders want repayment…with interest. Or maybe it’s not so diabolical as any of that! On one of her adventures, who’s to say the adventuress didn’t save the life of somebody, not knowing that this person was a powerful businessman back home, someone who’s been waiting years to return the favor?
See what I’m getting at here? One of the most important things any production can do is to get the cast and writers together and write out character bibles. Soon, the problem won’t be “What stories do we have to tell?” Instead, it’ll be “What stories are we going to have to cut or put on the shelf for a while so that we’re not playing the same character when we’re three-hundred years old and sustained only by having preserved our brain in a jar full of nutrient-rich fluids?”
Anyhoo. Questions and comments are welcome, as per usual. Who knows, that question may be the subject of next week’s blog! THE FUTURE IS A WONDERFUL PLACE.
Also, Stark doesn’t eat poultry. He finds birds to be filthy animals.