By Martha Reed
Whenever someone tells me they’ve read one of my stories, I make it a point to ask for feedback. I’m way past the point where I take things personally, and I believe that when I hear first person criticism or comments about my work that if I can learn from it, it will make me a better writer next time.
I heard one such comment over the weekend. The mother of a friend read my Nantucket mystery novel and said she wished I had detailed the characters better. She had trouble imagining what they looked like. That surprised me, because I’m very careful about delineating my characters and I deliberately try not to put too much information in my stories thinking that the reader will want to fill in some of the pertinent details themselves. The remark did make me go back though and take a good hard look at my characters, and since I have a story that continues across more than one novel, I decided I needed to create a character bible.
A character bible is a wonderful writerly tool. I started a folder with plastic sleeves, and whenever I come across a magazine advertisement with a model that catches my eye I clip it out and put it in my bible. Each of my characters has a page with their name on it, and the binder is filling up with visual information. Sometimes the people in the advertisements who represent one specific character don’t even really resemble each other but there was something about a glance or a look or even a pose that reminds me of one aspect of that particular character.
Sometimes I save pictures of movie stars. Personally, I think that’s a little like cheating although I see it all the time and I’ve used it myself. For instance, if you want a quick description you have someone in the book say: “He looked just like Paul Newman.” Easy fix.
An additional benefit to a character bible, especially when you write over a period of time, is you create continuity, especially among secondary characters. If Scott has auburn hair in book one, he doesn’t suddenly go carrot red later on. Characters with glasses can keep using them to make a point. And I’m proving the best use of this tool as I age; nowadays, when I forget exactly which type of car Sue drives I can easily look it up in my bible rather than flipping through the pages looking for the original text!