As I said in the last posting, in creating a character biography, it is easiest to start with some basic information and let that lead you to delve deeper. Imagine yourself in the center of a series of concentric circles. Start with information about yourself in the center of the circle. The next ring is information about your immediate family and daily life. Next is your extended family. Next your communities and your public life. Finally your world view and how far-removed events affect your impression. I will take a common Character Development Worksheet and cover each of the questions. I will give you some suggestions for why the question is relevant and in most cases, an idea of some sources to help you decide on your answers. The questionnaire in most packets leave room for as much detail as you care to include, so you may want to start with a little and add more details as you decide on them.
Center and First Ring: Yourself and Early Influences
Upon a basic introduction, the first information shared is your name. Sometimes a name will be provided for you from the census of the area. Sometimes you will like to consult the census of the area yourself for an actual person of the area. Sometimes you will use your own name. And sometimes you will choose a different name for yourself. I find it is useful to consistently use a few names/impressions where possible, so I remember which name to answer to. :-p Consulting the area census, which is usually available through your local library or through Ancestory.com, is often a much appreciated touch for interpreting at an historical park or historical site as it makes the interpretation more immediate to them and tells the story of some forgotten heroes and heroines who founded our communities.
Your birthday is often the next question. Time and Date. com can help with the computations. Your age tells the community what you've seen, what experiences you probably had, and how that might affect how you view the world. We all remember where we were when we heard about famous events and the people of the past were no different. Remember that calender time may have been viewed differently by your impression... maybe the season was a more important counting tool than the month. Perhaps your impression's mother marked family time as between your arrival and Grandpa's exit, or you were born the fall the burning of the tobacco beds got out of hand and burned half the county, or the year Himself was elected president.
A place of birth or home-town is often asked, and rightly so. This is your first community. This is your first introduction to societal and cultural norms. This is where you learn what it means to be part of or apart from a community. Have your people been here for generations, a solid part of the community fabric? Are your people just come to the area, thus you are weaving into the community fabric? Or are your people passing through, a lively accent to the community fabric? Each geographic region was settled by a different make-up of people with specific tribal traditions in language, dress, behavioral norms, and communal attitudes that mark this community as “different” than others. Your first community, or the first community you identify with, is where these traits are instilled in you.
A timeline of major events affecting your impression will usually be included. This can seem very daunting and I often fill this out as I create the rest of the biography. I use this as a “cheat sheet” to make sure my dates and ages add up logically. Sometimes some world events can put personal events into perspective, and I include those here. Also, some events that I consider affecting my impression’s life that are not covered in other categories.
Often information about your parents and siblings is asked about. If you have found your name from the census, a previous census will help with filling out the family tree. If you are choosing your own, viewing a number of families in the census can help you get an idea of the types of family make-up that were common to your area. Your parents are the ones who taught you "the rules" that you are now deciding to accept, tweak, disregard, or openly oppose. They are the ones who introduced you to much of what the world had to offer and taught you how to explore and interpret what you were experiencing. Giving careful consideration to the parents of your impression is important to exploring what your impression might have been taught and how that influences how they act and react today. For much of the past, extended family also helped with these lessons, so don't neglect to include the influences of your Grandparents, Uncles & Aunts, Cousins, Great-Uncles & Great-Aunts. How your parents interact with their siblings will show you how to interact with yours, and how to interact with the community at large.
Your spouse and children are the last part of exploring your period family. If your spouse is attending the event with you as your impression’s spouse, it is important that you consult each other when composing your biographies to keep the information consistent. In the societal norms of the past, women took their communal standing from their spouse or lack thereof. Thus, the information about your spouse, his occupation, and his societal standing are important questions about your standing in the community. At the basic level, one can simply answer “yes, I’m married and we’re normal trade-class folks.” To delve deeper gives an opportunity to comment on marriage in general, your marriage in particular, and how your marriage affects your daily life. Are you doing well? Are you struggling? Are you arguing because he drinks away the rent money? Are you glad he spends all his time at the office because he micro-manages your sphere when he is home?
In the next part of the series, we’ll continue the biographies with answering questions about our Community and wrap up in future postings with World View. Remember to break your information into manageable bits and it won’t seem so daunting.
One can browse the census by years by clicking the dates to the right-hand side, or search by birth year and location. You don't need a name.