The role of character biases in fiction writing - Authors A.I.

Alessandra Torre
May 19, 2024

In a recent First Draft Friday, I discussed character biases — and author biases — with author Timothy Byron who shares his approach to character development and the impact of biases on storytelling. Timothy’s literary romantic crime novels often revolve around flawed characters navigating challenging situations, reflecting his belief in the complexity of human nature.

Here are some key takeaways from my conversation with Timothy:

Understanding character biases: Timothy breaks down the concept of character biases into two categories: conscious and unconscious. Conscious biases are deliberate choices influenced by past literary works or personal preferences, while unconscious biases stem from subconscious influences and experiences. He emphasizes the interplay between these biases in shaping characters and storylines.

Examples of character biases: In his own writing, Timothy gravitates toward characters with significant flaws, mirroring his belief in the universality of human imperfection. By portraying characters with layers of self-doubt and vulnerability, Timothy explores themes of resilience and personal growth amid adversity.

Impact on audience engagement: The author’s biases inevitably influence the audience attracted to their work. Whether consciously or unconsciously, readers are drawn to narratives that resonate with their own perspectives and experiences. Timothy acknowledges the role of biases in shaping reader engagement and encourages authors to embrace their unique voices.

Challenges and opportunities: While biases can hinder or enhance storytelling, Timothy sees them as opportunities for creative exploration. By embracing diverse perspectives and challenging their own assumptions, authors can create compelling characters and narratives that resonate with a broad audience.

Tips for character development: Timothy shares his approach to character development, blending structured outlines with improvisation. He encourages authors to allow characters the freedom to evolve organically, often leading to surprising plot twists and emotional depth.

The art of forgiveness and redemption: Timothy discusses the complexities of character arcs, emphasizing the importance of forgiveness and redemption. Characters may forgive others or themselves, overcoming obstacles and evolving in unexpected ways throughout the story.

It was a great discussion, one you won’t want to miss! Click below to watch our 30-minute recording and hear the questions we answered from the live audience. Keep scrolling if you’d prefer to read the transcript.

More info:

Try out Marlowe, our A.I., for a critique your novel: authors.ai/marlowe/

Check out Timothy Byron’s books on BingeBooks.

Enjoy the show? Check out our past First Draft Friday episodes.

TRANSCRIPT:

Alessandra: Hello everybody, and welcome. This is our 53rd episode of First Draft Friday. I am your host with Authors.AI. My name is Alessandra Torre, and I am joined today by Timothy Byron. And we are going to be talking about character biases. So maybe your own personal bias toward characters that you create or the characteristics of those characters. To be honest, this is a topic I am not well versed in, so I’m really excited to jump into this deeper. But first you want to start by just introducing yourself, Timothy, and letting them know a little bit about you.

Timothy: Yes. I’ve been writing novels for about 12 years now. I tend to lean toward like, I guess romantic crime stories, you know, with like a literary fiction, what I consider, my own definition of literary fiction bent and also science fiction stories because I write under two different pen names. I tend toward those themes. I guess literary fiction and crime, romantic stories, you know, start out bad like a bad situation that creates a good situation, I guess, for two people or more.

Alessandra: What point of view do you typically write in?

Timothy: Third person.

Alessandra: OK, fantastic, that helps. And a lot of those, I see that we have a lot of people in the audience. As we go, please feel free to chime in with your thoughts and your questions, and we’ll try to answer as many of those as possible. So let’s talk a little bit about what you mean when you say maybe an unconscious or conscious character bias and what does that mean when we use that term?

Timothy: Well, I guess a conscious bias would be something that you deliberately put into your characters. Maybe it’s, you know, books that you’ve read in the past, you know, either classical stories or whatnot that you really enjoyed and you maybe tried to emulate those consciously, or at least sort of reach that depth or that level of intensity or extraction or something. Whereas unconscious, I guess would be like just people that have influenced you in different ways, or maybe just even, you know, as you’re writing a story, sort of thoughts that come out or feelings that come out as you’re writing a story and then you realize, hey, you know, I can go this direction with it, or I can go that direction with it, depending on my own personal experience. It just opens up different doors, I guess that could be like the unconscious sort of coming out, while in the process of developing what you’re consciously trying to do, what you’re actively trying to do.

Alessandra: So what would you say, like in your own writing, like if you have certain character biases, like what would be, can you give us some examples of what those would be?

Timothy: I try to mainly deal with characters who are extremely flawed, because I think that that’s a much of a challenge for, you know, because I’m extremely flawed, you know, I’ve certainly made a lot of mistakes in my life, so I think my characters should sort of mirror my own struggle with society or the universe or whatever. So I tried to deal with characters who have a lot of flaws and weaknesses and maybe a lot of self-doubt. And then they learn through a difficult struggle, a difficult process to overcome that somehow; either through other people that help them along the way or just through toughing it out and becoming smarter and more dogged in their determination, you know, something like that.

Alessandra: I’m really trying to understand a little better, and I might just be really slow in this area, but I’m trying to understand what character bias means. So if I realize that I am prone to writing certain types of characters, is that my character bias or is character bias kind of the viewpoint in which character sees like their own personal biases that they’re applying to their situations? Or is it more like the type of character that I normally write?

Timothy: I think it could be a combination of all those things that you mentioned. I think bias could be different for different people. Maybe some people they like characters that when they write stories, they lean toward characters that are more heroic or they lean toward characters that are more needy or more, you know, something. It may not even be something in such, it could be the opposite to their own personality, and that’s how the author can really challenge him or herself, right? You can try to write stories about characters and their development and their growth or whatever that are completely opposite to anything like your own personality.

That could be the bias in itself — you choose those types of characters because they’re opposite to your personality or experience in life, but you want to dive into that. Or for other people it could be, you know, you prefer certain types of characters. You prefer heroic, swashbuckling-type characters that are prone to getting themselves into dangerous situations, because it’s exciting, or something like that, so I think people just choose them. And that’s probably the unconscious bias — the unconscious and the conscious is partly you choose the characters. But then I think in the process of writing, most writers, you realize there’s actually more to it than that. There’s more to it than just the conscious choice. It’s also the unconscious working in the background to make that character more real and more human, by the growth or the development, or how the experience of that character and how he or she deals with certain situations. Does that make sense?

Alessandra: It does make sense. And as someone on Facebook followed up with this question, can you give an example of how this idea either helps or hinders your ability to create and develop characters? I love that. Let’s talk about the first part first, like how it helps your ability to create. Does it help and hinder, does it do both or can it do both?

Timothy: I think it definitely can do both. And that’s part of the challenge is, you know, if you’re dealing with characters that are very unlike yourself, or even characters that are dealing with situations that are completely different from any experiences you’ve ever had in your life, then I feel as an author, you kind of want to hinder yourself. That’s the challenge, I mean, if you deal with easy topics. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that- dealing with topics that you’re extremely familiar with. But I think fiction authors tend to be a little bit different; most of the time is that you want to deal with situations that maybe you haven’t dealt with in your own life, or it may perhaps you would like to, or situations that you know are just fascinating. They’re like dream sequences to you or something like that. So I guess they could hinder you in a certain way, but help you because they become like images that you would perhaps like to see in real life, but maybe never will, or perhaps even never want to. But, you know, you want to explore them at least mentally.

Alessandra: And I have to say, I used to frequently read like a mystery series by a famous author, a male author, and he always had very kind of charismatic, you know, in my mind, it was his version of like a perfect man. But he always had, like, these women would just swoon and immediately like, have sex with them. And the women were always very ditzy and sort of side characters. But wherever he went, he was always like solving crimes and jumping out of buildings and doing things. And there were always these women that were kind of, you know, fawning over him and how amazing he was at everything. And so, I think that was like a character bias he had, right? He saw female characters and often wrote very similar smaller side female characters who were like that. And his male characters were also always the same, kind of the same mold. And so, I see that as a hindrance for him.

For him as an author, he would need to say, okay, I’m writing kind of cookie cutter. It might not be cookie cutter to the genre, but it’s cookie cutter to me, like all of my characters are interchangeable. And for me as an author, I tend to write unlikable characters. And that’s something I’m aware of, and I’m not doing it intentionally, but I do find myself, when I’m looking at a book and looking at laying it out, I go, okay, do I have any redeemable characters here? I need to make sure I have somebody that somebody likes and is rooting for, that it, all of these characters aren’t just horrible, you know, in different ways. So I would say, I’m sorry, Facebook, I hate to call you a Facebook user. That sounds horrible. That’s kind of the best examples I can think of in my writing or in someone else’s writing in terms of negative things you should be aware of with bias. Would you agree with that?

Timothy: I mean, yeah, exactly. I think you, you, you touched upon some important things like the writer that you mentioned who writes the cookie-cutter characters, as you put it; his bias is he sees the world as very cut and dried, you know, very black and white. You know, they’re heroic men and they’re women that fawn over them. And certainly, that is a reality in life. That’s a part of life. That’s a part of society or whatever. But from your perspective, you’re saying that your challenge, your hindrance or what you want to accomplish in your writing is you want to deal with characters that are unlikeable, you know, that the characters that perhaps don’t have qualities that anyone wants to emulate, but at the same time, that’s another reality of life. That’s another reality of certain situations, certain professions, certain occupations or whatever that’s your bias, you know, that’s what you find challenging and interesting to explore as a theme, as a thematic person.

Alessandra: Do you think our biases are always easy to find, or do you have any tips for authors that are trying to understand kind of what their biases are and whether they should embrace those or fight against them?

Timothy: Well, they should definitely embrace them because I firmly believe that people should write about what they want to write, or whatever inspires them to write, I can’t remember who said that. You should write about whatever inspires you to write, because otherwise it’s boring. And if you like writing about villains, then you should write about villains. If you like writing about, basically, like Hollywood plot characters, you know, plot number 26, and just putting a new angle on that, then that’s what you should write about. If you like writing about like deeply flawed personalities that somehow overcome the inner struggles within themselves, you know, which is what I do, that’s just my personal bias. I’m more of an internal struggle type writer. Internal struggle affected by the outside world, and the interplay between those forces, you know, from the outside world within ourselves and how that helps us to develop and sometimes, you know, really crushes us at times and how we recover from that. So that’s just, I don’t know, but that’s probably my own personal bias.

Alessandra: We had a great question from YouTube. This is coming from David. He said, does the author’s bias affect the audience that he or she attracts and how? How about a male audience versus a female audience?

Timothy: Well, that’s a very good question. Yeah. Does the author’s bias affect the audience – affect the audience that is attracted to that? Of course it does. Yeah, of course it does. Because I think you’re going to attract people that have similar points of view on certain topics and have been through similar experiences in their lives, or maybe they just sympathize with that, you know, it could be maybe they haven’t personal experience of themselves, but they just sympathize with that kind of journey in life, you know, if you want to use like the popular self-help, like nomenclature. How does it affect the audience? That’s good. Yeah, it should move the audience. It should really move the audience through your words and the scenes that you write to sympathize with those characters and possibly even reflect back on those situations in their own lives in similar situations because novels, you know, the novels that have really touched me in my life – or situations, are scenes or situations, things that the characters have said and done in those novels that I’ve actually drawn from in my own personal life, you know, that I’ve used, similar mentalities or put myself into certain frames of mind that were, you know, similar to the novels that I’ve read. So yeah, it definitely affects the audience.

How about a male audience versus a female audience? Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, it could, but I don’t find that you know, being male or female really makes that much of a difference in terms of character. I mean, you find amazing personalities, you know, heroic personalities in women, and you find them in men, and you also find villainous personalities in men and in women. I don’t think gender has, has, has very much to do, but of course, certain genres, certain writing styles do tend to attract certain genders; that’s without a doubt, that’s without a doubt true.

Alessandra: And I think the question really brought up in my mind that I think there is often a disconnect between, you know authors have an audience that they’re wanting to attract, and they have an audience that they have in mind. Like, oh, I’m going to write a book that will appeal to people who like this, this, and this. But perhaps they aren’t taking in their biases in account when they’re doing that. And that they should really think about, like you said, embracing their strengths or writing what they know or what they enjoy. And then thinking about the audience is going to be drawn to that, and making sure that there isn’t a disconnect there, because I think a lot of times maybe we’re like, oh, I want to write a Da Vinci Code type book or something like that, but your characters are completely opposite from that. And The Da Vinci Code is a horrible example because that’s such a strong plot-drawn book, but if you do want to appeal to Janet Evanovich’s audience, but you’re writing in a style and writing characters who are completely different than that, you’re not going to be successful in making that match.

Timothy: No. And I mean, it’s very difficult to write in someone else’s style, just like it’s really difficult to put yourself in someone else’s head or emulate someone else’s emotions. It really is necessary that you find your own path, you know, you find your own voice. It is very true that, you know, you do have to find your audience and they are out there for just about everyone. But it’s just a matter of you know, writing, I guess, you have to target them, I guess, with not only with your writing, but with marketing too, you know, that’s one of the difficult things for a lot of authors is the marketing angle. But I guess you just have to speak from your own voice and hope that you do reach that audience because they are out there. They may be scattered all over the world, but they are out there.

Alessandra: Another great question from Facebook. Does every character have to overcome their flaws?

Timothy: That’s a very good question. That’s assuming everyone has a lot of flaws. Not that anyone is perfect, you know, but certainly, some people have less flaws than others, and some people are more aware of their flaws than other people are. So certainly in my novels, I just deal with that because that’s my own personal perspective. I believe that I’m deeply flawed, so I think that that’s my own sort of personal exorcism, I guess in my novels I deal with characters who are overcoming their own flaws and their own personal struggles. But yeah, every character, I mean, I think that’s one of the great themes that makes most novels interesting is that people are overcoming, not only struggles on the outside, the external world, but within themselves. And then keep both linked together intimately and inextricably linked together as well.

Alessandra: And I think there’s, you could say overcoming their flaws, but also maybe overcoming an obstacle or something despite their flaws or learning to succeed without like you said.

Timothy: Flaws are also what make us human too, so that’s a humanizing quality as well. Like a perfect person, you know, with no flaws would probably be the most unlikeable and scariest person you’d ever meet.

Alessandra: I love that. And I love this chime-in from Elaine. She said, presumably the leading character evolves, but others can keep their flaws, especially if they’re baddies. So, yeah, I guess we don’t want everyone to overcome their flaws or else our villains won’t be very interesting either.

Timothy: Right. Especially if you write a series. You want those villains or those frustrating characters to come back in the story and create the same sort of tension in different scenes, you know, maybe different levels of tension and intensity in different scenes. That’s very true.

Alessandra: And thinking about series also, our main character can’t solve all of their problems in book one, they need to retain a lot of those flaws. I love these questions.

Timothy: Definitely true.

Alessandra: Yeah. Please keep the questions and comments coming. So when you sit down and you’re… first, just a few housekeeping questions. Are you an outliner or are you a pantser?

Timothy: I’m a little bit of both. I like to keep it open and flexible. I write a preliminary outline and I have a mental outline, so I have both like an outline that is written out, but very loose. And then I have an outline in my head that is a little more detailed than that, but I also allow a lot of leeway in the scenes to, and they typically like a segue into different areas, and I end up scrapping areas of the outline, so it looks more like a family hereditary tree or something like that, rather than an actual outline. It starts here and then it sort of goes in this direction. It’s not set in stone, that’s for sure.

Alessandra: And you mostly write stand-alones or series?

Timothy: I write series now, and I do like the series because I like to fall in love with characters and then explore all the different possible situations and scenarios I can put those characters through, so I really tend toward the series.

Alessandra: And at what stage do you do your character development? I mean, do you have a process that you go through for character development?

Timothy: Yes. Before I even start writing a novel, I will have a pretty good idea of what I want the characters to do and how I want the story to sort of progress. And the only thing I don’t really have a clear picture of is the ending, whether I want it to be a happy ending or a sad ending. Some stories I think are better when the ending is tragic, you know, it’s just more meaningful. And some stories are more meaningful when the ending is happy, you know, when things sort of work out with poetic justice or whatever. So I have the characters in mind and I have most of the situation sort of mentally in the back of my mind, but the ending, the ending is always the thing that’s sort of open-ended, how I’m going to end it.

Alessandra: And Linda, ask kind of a question on that vein. Do you write detailed character profiles before starting, or is all of this character development just kind of in your head?

Timothy: I do a little bit of both. Like the character outlines that I write are pretty general. I’ll say something like you know, know Paul Masters is an irresponsible young man with an overbearing father and a sort of aloof, absent mother, careless mother or something like that, and sort of give an outline of the sort of influences in his or her life, and then sort of leave it to the story itself to sort of bring out the other qualities in their personality or during the growth process or the development process of how they react to each situation in the story.

Alessandra: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Thank you, Linda, for that question. And so when we’re talking about biases, are these coming or do you find your own biases are coming from people you know, or like you said, I know you said yourself, like you’re flawed, but if we’re wanting to kind of develop bias or we’re wanting to write a character that might be different from us, do you have any tips on how we can kind of dig deeper into a character that might be very different from ourselves?

Timothy: That is the challenge, and that is the – that is for me anyway, from my own personal perspective, that’s what makes writing exciting because I have to think… I guess for me, it’s just a matter of thinking opposite to myself or thinking how I would do something and thinking about, you know, the opposite characters, whether they are people I’ve met in my life, how they explain how they reacted to situations or what they did in certain situations. It could be movie characters, could be characters in stories and how they reacted to certain situations. I just think of all the different types of people there are and how differently they react compared to how I would. And then I try to, you know, if it’s a person that I met, for example, who I felt was totally opposite to me, and he or she reacted completely opposite to any way that I would react, then I just tried to take whatever kernal or whatever assessment of their personality that I have, and I try to develop that into a character. Do you know what I mean? Like, this person had a certain personality, and this is the impression I got from that person. It could be, like I say, from a movie, it could be from a novel. It could be a person that I grew up with or something. And they were just totally opposite to me, in every way they reacted and every way they interpreted situations. So I take that kernel of that personality, and then I try and develop it into a full length character, a three-dimensional character in a story – if that makes any sense.

Alessandra: It does make sense. And I love that because I so often encounter people who are just very different from me, or they, like you said, they react in something or they act in some way. And I just think, oh my gosh, I never would’ve reacted that. And sometimes it’s a better way, you know, than I would react. Sometimes it’s a more volatile or more reckless way. But I love the idea of kind of saving that and putting that aside and saying, you know, this, this is, and I do that sometimes I’ll realize, you know, this is the type of person who irons their sheets or something like that, and that is something very, very different from me. And so I just said, that’s going to be like a character trait of someone somewhere, you know, I’m going to put that aside for later. And I love the idea of building a character around it.

Timothy: Well, I think when most people are young, certainly me, from my own personal experience, we think that everyone basically thinks the same way that we do. That’s one of the biggest, most eye-opening revelations in life, isn’t it? When you get to, I don’t know, most people, I guess it’s around twenties, mid-twenties or something like that, you start to realize that really people do not think anything like you do.

Alessandra: And also the realization that maybe we aren’t right about everything, you know?

Timothy: Yeah, yeah.

Alessandra: Like, it’s okay for them to think differently and maybe they are also like, maybe we’re both right. Yeah,

Timothy: That’s right.

Alessandra: Eric from YouTube said, do your characters ever surprise you by acting very differently than what you outlined as the story develops?

Timothy: Yeah. I really try to keep the open the open question, the open box for the characters. I try not to be like the dictator of the characters. I want them to be different than I imagined. I want them to surprise me, actually. I don’t really want to put words in their mouth. I want them to tell me, I want them to sort of have a life of their own and sort of tell me what they want. I know that sounds really kind of ethereal or mystical or something, but I don’t really want to control the characters. I want them to have a voice and sort of a life of their own or something like that, if that makes sense, and speak with their own voice and not be like, I’m the God, you know, creating sort of…

Alessandra: You’re not forcing them down this path.

Timothy: Right. I want them to tell me, you know, not me tell them what they want and what they want to do.

Alessandra: That makes perfect sense. And we are already at a half hour. We do have one final question, if you’re able to answer it in just 15 seconds or so, no pressure. But from Facebook, they said is it enough to have a character forgive someone, or do we need to show action to overcome?

Timothy: Both, I think. You can forgive yourself, you know, the character can forgive him or herself. They can forgive other characters in the story, or they can overcome, you know, if someone’s betrayed them, of course, in a novel, whether it’s a romantic relationship or it’s something to do with a job or with a situation in their lives that they’ve been betrayed. Yeah, certainly they can overcome that or a difficult situation that it certainly can be both, and both can be interesting and both can be developed in a very interesting way. Yeah, I think I think it can go either way and probably with the same character in different situations, you can go both ways as well. Forgive someone for something and overcome an obstacle or overcome a bad relationship or a situation where they were betrayed or wronged or something like that, or screwed up badly or something as well.

Alessandra: That was fantastic. And thank you all for joining us today. We’ll be back in two weeks with another First Draft Friday. And if you have not swung by authors.ai, we encourage you to visit authors.ai and check out Marlowe, who’s an artificial intelligence that can help you improve your manuscript. So thank you so much, Timothy, it was fantastic to have you here. If they’re interested in reading one of your books, is there a certain book that you suggest they start with?

Timothy: You can start with Young Love, Old Lore. I write under two pen names. So my romantic crime thriller book is called Young Love, Old Lore – the lore is L-O-R-E in case anybody’s interested, and it’s under Timothy Byron. And then I have a science fiction novel under Gordon Byron my other pen name, and that’s the Super Species, which is science fiction.

Alessandra: Super Species. Perfect. That’s a tongue twister, at least for me. Thank you all, and thank you so much, Timothy, and we will see you back in two weeks for another First Draft Friday.

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