The Baltimore Book Festival & Building Character


I was given space at the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend, and had a successful vending experience.  I also enjoyed sitting in company with fellow authors, discussing our publishing experiences, checking out the indie book tents, and even a visit from an actor portraying Poe. 

But I have to confess, that the most interesting thing about book festivals is interacting with the public.  And I don’t mean the everyday, normal sorts. I mean the, *ahem*, different sort.

The vast majority of people who stop to look at the book are very encouraging, and pleasant, and NORMAL.  But some people just march to the beat of their own drum, and I seem to have magnetic appeal for them.  One man–who appeared to be in a tremendous hurry–stopped by my table, out of breath, to ask where Marcia Brady was.  He wasn’t too off base, because Maureen McCormick was scheduled to present the following day, but if you could have seen how insistently he wanted to meet her you would have been frightened.  Then there are the men on the prowl.  I actually had one invite me to his house to look at his sculptures.  When he saw the look on my face he added that my husband could come too, and winked.  Then there are the people who are just plain rude.  (“No, I would never read fiction.  What’s the point?”)

I share these stories with you writers out there to a) give you a little heads up that there are some strange ducks out there, and b) encourage you to embrace it because these little vignettes–these little sketches of quirky people–make great character material. 

I’m working on some character bio’s for my second novel right now so I’m especially observant of those around me.  As many writers will tell you, its helpful–and arguably essential–to draw up character bios.  Even if you don’t include all of the material on the character in your book, the background is necessary to helping you, the writer, understand desire and motivation–which are key to developing plot and theme. 

If you don’t know where to begin, start with yourself and those you know.  Below, I’ve included some character development questions to get you started.  Fill it out for yourself.  Fill it out for the people closest to you.  Fill it out for the nerd, the jock, the cheerleader, the boy from down the street who ended up in jail.  Fill it out for your favorite book characters.  Look for the information that draws you in.  Now, use this as a springboard for developing characters.  (Don’t copy any one person perfectly–we don’t want any legal trouble.)  You’ll be amazed at what will show up.  You’ll see how the background of your character will shape your story line. 

So I strongly encourage writers to take advantage of book fairs for the many opportunities they offer–opportunities for selling books, and for watching people.  Just don’t forget your notebook. 

*        *         *

Character Bio Questions

1.  Place of birth.  Birth Story.

2. Parentage.  Siblings. Birth Order.

3. Home life.  Geographic area.  Pets.

4. Best/Worst Childhood Memory

5. Schooling–public or private?  Good/Poor student? College?

6. Good/Bad habits? Quirks?

7. First love.  First Sex. Dating history.

8. Married/divorced/widowed

9. Employment history

10. Hobbies

11. Deaths of loved ones.

12. Deepest desires.  Goals.

13. Greatest fears.

14. Socio-economic status.

15. Religion.


5 thoughts on “The Baltimore Book Festival & Building Character

  1. Stacy says:

    I think the quirky people you met in person may be the reason the person said “why bother” with fiction. Truth is so strange. Thanks for the reminder that these folks can become part of a later story.

  2. Tnelson says:

    Your site was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

  3. nstodard says:

    Here, here. I, too, seem to be a magnet for strange people. And I always take note of how I might incorporate them into my writing. Bars are a given. I’d never thought about book fairs. I’ve found wonderful strangeness at the community pool lately. I can see it now: The Poolside Chronicles. Oy.

  4. nstodard says:

    And btw, congrats on one year of a terrific blog!

  5. Lara says:

    Hey Erika!
    I was curious as to what all you had displayed on your table there? It looked like more than just a poster and some books! 🙂 Do you have business cards? Bookmarks? I can’t tell! I just wondered what you did for set up?

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