Posts Tagged ‘character backstory’

Every person you meet has their own story. Their story concerns how they were raised, what their life was like, previous jobs, and relationships. Characters are no different. A character should have a back story. The purpose of a back story is to give a reason for your character’s motives, habits, dreams, and even dislikes. When creating a back story, you will need to create not only the past of the character, but times, and experiences. The back story, however, is not a character history. Histories take a long time to build and structure. They could make up a story in themselves.

While a character history would be good, it takes too long to create. Plus, it is usually unnecessary for the purpose of writing a single story that concerns your character. A back story is a briefer compilation of key points in your characters life that brings him or her to a conclusion. That conclusion is the beginning of your story.

The things that people experience in the past can have results on how they act or react in the present. Almost everyone has secrets. These secrets will affect them, probably more strongly, than other past events. What is your character hiding in their past? What secret could affect them in the present (or future)?

To heighten the suspense of the past, or secrets, add pain. More pain means more sympathy, which in turn leads to more interest from the reader. To create an interesting past for your characters, the easiest way is to ask, “What if…?”

What if your character quit high school? What if they decided to become an exotic dancer? What if this exotic dancer is from a very high class family? What if the point of being an exotic dancer wasn’t for the money, but to spite that high class family? The what-ifs can go on as long as you need them to. And every what-if gathers into a specific spot in the back story: the character motive.

Using a back story, you can find reasons for everything from the motive, to behaviors, even to habits. Think along the lines of a counselor. They have to get their patients to talk, even face things that bother them, in order to move on to healing. Treat your character as a patient. Ask questions. Get them to talk. The farther you delve into their past, the more likely you are to uncover the trauma that starts them on their path. Like real people, how the character deals with that trauma determines their character traits.

Take a trauma where a child witnesses her mother’s death. If they try to run from the reality, they are more likely to run in the future. They may not want to deal with the real world and could end up creating an elaborate fantasy world that they escape to when things get too rough. This will lead to behaviors that include distancing themselves from others, the inability to connect with their emotions, or deal with other people’s emotions.

If the child becomes angry and lays blame on someone else, they are more likely to become aggressive. They will be prone to emotional outbursts and will have issues dealing with their, or other people’s emotions. If the child accepts the death as reality, they could end up being too realistic in their dealings with other people, becoming slightly pessimistic. If the child then has to support the remaining parent, the child misses out on their childhood. They will be more likely to be overly responsible and often refuse to “enjoy themselves”. Or they could end up blaming their remaining parent for the hardships that they are forced to endure. And so on.

When creating your own back story, keep your mind open to anything that occurs to you. Begin with an overview of the past. After the overview is complete, move inward, toward the trauma, while keeping an eye on cause and effect. Remember to add influences that affect the personality traits of the character. They will not be as strong as the story behind the motive. This is mainly because the motive impacts the character more than anything else. Also remember to use senses to backup the key points of the back story.

In the real world, our senses will pick up on something that will remind us of something in our past. So using senses during a traumatic event in your character’s past could end up being used in the story as a way to block the character from reaching their goal. Using the child who saw her mother’s death, you can add that the room smelled heavily of lavender. Lavender was the mother’s favorite flower. The father, in the attempt to make his wife’s passing easier, tried to bring her everything she liked most in the world. The end result would be that the child abhors the smell of lavender and serves as a reminder of that dreadful day. Now, every time your character smells lavender, she remembers the death of her mother.

Back story is a useful tool in discovering motivations and habits of your characters. You have to remember that character motivation is usually the driving force of any story. The character wants this or wants that, but in order to achieve their wants, has to complete a series of tasks. Character back stories give writers a chance to glimpse the character. They help to form the character more completely in the writer’s head. This makes the character more real when being written about and easier for your readers to connect to.