In my last blog, “Piecing it all Together”, I discussed how I named characters and how I made the two main protagonists, Debra Wright and Patricia Mitchell, total opposites from one another. That was the short version. Once I got names it was time to build the characters from there: give each a face, features, personality, dialect and a bio/background. They also needed motivations and goals, flaws and saving graces which pertained to the story.
I have a three-page bio/character-building template that I use. I’m not going to get into all the details of the sheet (I will write a blog on the Bio Template itself in between books), but all the information you are about to read came from the Bio Template, so you will get an idea of all that it contains. This is the description of one of the main characters in Demons of the Jungle: Debra Lynn Wright. Not everything will be revealed here—only the high points and any items that are in her bio but may not have come out in the book. (Yep, that happens sometimes. If it happens to you, don’t force the information into your book; readers will know if doesn’t belong, as it will read awkwardly or slow down the flow of the story. And if the proofreader/editor removes some of it, bite the bullet and leave it out.)
From the Bio Template, Page One
Book title, year: Demons of the Jungle, 2009
Name: Debra Lynn Wright
AKA: Debs, Red, Red Gator
Character prominence: Major
Year of birth: 1988
Age at time of story: 21
Weight: 115 pounds
Hair: Red, straight, mid-back in length
Nose: Medium length and width, turned up at the end
Lips: Top thin, bottom full
Teeth: Chipped and rotting from drug use
Build: Thin and athletic
Skin tone: Light with freckles, burns easily
Striking Features, Distinctive Language, Hobbies, etc
- Bright red hair.
- Uses a lot of gang slang and street language in her speech, with an American accent from north of the Mason Dixon line.
- Hobbies: None.
- To stay clean and free of drugs. To be able to support herself in a home of her own, with food on the table, in a warmer climate.
- To help Patricia through her struggles and keep her from trying drugs. To help someone else avoid making her mistakes.
- To protect herself and Patricia in the jungle, in order to achieve the first goal.
- Hot-tempered and has a smart mouth.
- Always fighting the drug demons.
- Trust issues.
- Cares about others and discourages them when she thinks they are making mistakes that could lead them down the path she has traveled.
- A survivor.
- Learns to trust Patricia.
Role Played and Outcome
Debra is a homeless, street-smart young woman striving for a better life. Co-lead with Patricia Sue Mitchell.
Outcome: [Sorry, I can’t tell you. You’ll have to read the book.]
From the Bio Template, Page Two
Debra Lynn Wright was born in 1988. Her parents are unknown to her as she was delivered to an orphanage before she was a month old. Debra was bounced from foster home to foster home for most of her infant and toddler years. The only time she learned anything about family life was between the ages of six and thirteen; she spent those years with the same family.
Once Debra hit puberty she soon figured out that blood was thicker than water. Her foster family had an older biological son that loved spying on Debra in the shower, sneaking into her room at night, and behaving in other mischievous ways. The mom caught him and decided it was too risky to have Debra in the home with a 15 year old with raging hormones. She informed the orphanage that Debra was not the problem, but that she felt it would be safer for Debra and the boy if they came and picked her up.
The next family let her know that she was only there for the check they received for keeping her. The only two rules: Debra had to be there when the social worker showed up, and say nothing negative to screw up their check. Other than that they preferred not to lay eyes on her.
At the age of 14 Debra found herself spending more and more time on the streets. Life in Detroit was getting rough and the family used Debra’s money to feed themselves, leaving her with very little for food, school supplies and clothes. Debra was eating out of trash cans from behind restaurants and begging for money on street corners.
When she turned 16 she dropped out of school and disappeared into the multitude of homeless people that now consumed the streets. Debra learned the system well: when she got sick she intentionally got caught shop-lifting so that she would be arrested. The county lock-up had free medical care and they were obligated to get her to a doctor.
She learned to survive on the streets and became withdrawn and a loner. To ease the fear, pain and bottled-up anger she carried around—which was caused by horrific nightmares and her hate and resentment from being tossed to the curb by her birth parents—Debra turned to drugs soon after she became 17. She would take odd jobs, including being a waitress, stripper or temp worker. When nothing was available in those fields she would turn to panhandling, and if that didn’t bring enough cash in she would commit petty theft in order to feed her habit. She stayed away from crimes that were considered felonies to avoid long stints behind bars.
Debra never gave into the deals the pimps tossed her way and she stayed away from prostitution, as her virginity was all she had left. Her habit had taken everything else: her pride, health, integrity and self-esteem were all gone. By the time she was 18 her norm was a vicious cycle: being arrested, getting sentenced to drug rehab and being released, only to repeat the cycle days, weeks or months later. This continued till she was 21, which brings us up to when the story takes over.
Excerpt from Demons of the Jungle
“Should we choose not to drink we’ll suffer a horrific death,” Debra exclaimed, her hands shaking as she flipped the pages.
Trish started to weep, her hands and knees trembling. With her eyes twitching she covered her mouth and dashed toward the porta john they used. She didn’t make it. She stopped short of the door and bent over, the coffee and breakfast bars crashing to the ground as she heaved. Debra poured water over a cloth and rushed to her, handing her the rag.
“My nerves are all torn up, Debs. When will this nightmare end?” Trish sobbed as she straightened up and wiped her face.
Debra pulled her in close and wiped the hair and tears from her face. They began the trek back to the table so Trish could get off her feet.
“Don’t worry Trish, we got this. We won’t become anyone’s sluts spitting out demon children, so get that picture out of your head. We have two days to figure something out.”
After Demons of the Jungle is released Debra’s full bio will be posted on the official website AuthorJosephClay.
Blogs in this series: “When is a second edition needed?”, “Birth of the Demons”, “Piecing it all together”, “Who is Patricia Mitchell?”, “Who is Levi West?”, “The Demons”, and the teaser before the release, “A deal too good to be true”.
Blog edited by Clare Diston @ Human Voices.