The Helpfulness of a Data Base Bible
Previously, there have been comments and discussions here about the importance of characters to the story. They are intrinsically linked. Humans are interested in stories that include other humans (sci-fi excepted). A good story should have interesting, believable characters. So how do you make them that way?
My very good friend, Jacqueline Simonds of Beagle Bay Books, put a name to a convenient data base practice I use by calling it a “Bible.” As a story line begins to form in my mind, I begin to imagine the types of people who have parts to play in the story. I assign roles to them and start thinking up names. As I do this, I use a simple Works data base to begin keeping their aspects straight in my mind. There is no hard and fast requirement for that data base’s structure; however, you might want to include some of the following:
- Names and nick names
- Relationships to others
- Sex (both actual and balance of attributes)
- Hair, skin, eyes, tattoos, scars, etc
- Education and training levels
- Vocal aspects (accents, region, tone, pitch, quirky ways of talking, etc)
- Social ability
- Special Skills
- Noticeable and hidden strengths
- Noticeable and hidden weaknesses
- Motivations (why the person does or doesn’t do certain things)
- Thinking quirks
- Moral strengths and weaknesses, religion, or the lack thereof, mentors, and centers of influence
- A possible short resume if applicable
- Comments about where he or she fits in the plot line
No, you don’t have to use all of these, or you can also include other factors if needed. Remember, this is a working aid to help you, the author. Such a Bible can help your characters come alive for you and your readers. You don’t have to use all the stuff you write down and not all characters are equally important. You may want to include a lot of detail for your major characters, perhaps less detail for characters who make only short appearances in the story, and practically no detail for very minor characters
Try to be realistic. Don’t be too cutesy with names such as Dudley Doright. Try to be accurate as to regions, nationalities, and ethnicities. I have had to include folks from various Middle Eastern countries, India, Pakistan, and China. To help me find appropriate names for these characters, I went to Wikipedia articles specifically on names and how and why they are formed in these specific cultures. I also Googled typical male and female baby name lists by culture.
Names can become very Freudian. Jacqueline Simonds content edited my first two mysteries. (She’s very good, by the way and I highly recommend her at http://www.beaglebay.com/contact.html ) She pointed out that every significant female character in the male protagonist’s family and close relationships had been given a name beginning with the letter “S.” After all that writing and rereading, I had never noticed it. It was an easy fix with global find and replace tools, but it was also unsettling to have it brought to my clueless attention.
Balance in All Things
Be very careful here. It simply isn’t realistic for a character to be all good or all bad. That is such a temptation, especially with the villains, but, people are more complex than that. In fact, when comparing a protagonist (hero) with an antagonist (villain) you may discover how much they have in common. What sets them apart in their respective roles are the choices they make and the actions they take. “There but for ___would go I.” These are the details that make a story so interesting. Getting down to the motivations of those light or dark sides makes for keen psychological studies.
Flexibility of Characters
Finally (no, there is no room here for a be all, end all treatise on this subject), are the degrees of flexibility in the main characters. The arc of the story is driven by what happens to and by characters and what they learn and how they change. Most readers are hoping to see characters that rise from the ashes of debacle, to overcome their weaknesses, their problems, and their challenges. No character should be perfect; however, characters that find the courage and wisdom to rise above adversity are preferred. I hate a story where nobody wins, all are destroyed, and nothing is learned except that life sucks. Sorry, that is neither entertaining nor uplifting to me. Of course, I’m just an old, set-in-my-ways man who knows what I like. And, well crafted characters I love.