If you’re new to this series (welcome!), make sure to check out my first post, about naming characters. For those of you who are regular readers, welcome back! Let’s get started.
Everyone has a story to tell, including your characters. And everyone’s story, no matter how small or unimportant it might seem, is going to have a gigantic influence on who they are and the choices they make. You don’t need to be able to write an entire biography on a character, but you should have a good understanding of their past and what made them who they are today. The two umbrella subjects I’ll be talking about today are people and places/events, although there’s plenty more that makes your character who they are. Here we go:
Maybe your character grew up with little to no outside support from either friends or family and had to support themselves completely. Maybe your character had a friend stab them in the back when they needed it most, and now they can’t trust anyone. Okay, so maybe these examples are a bit dramatic, but it’s definitely something you want to keep in mind. Whether they like it or not, just like in real life, your character is going to be heavily influenced by the people surrounding their life.
The main character of my current WIP, Siri (who I talked about a bit in last week’s post), has what looks like a pretty boring backstory, but actually turns out to be pretty important. Growing up in a large family in a tiny village on the coastline, she’s always kind of been the baby, what with her parents and three older siblings looking after her all the time. I can’t tell you anything specific about the plot, but there is a part when she’s separated from just about everyone she loves and ends up having to fend for herself for quite a bit of time. For her older sister, it might not be so much of a challenge, but for Siri, she’s so used to leaning on others that it comes as complete shock when she has to learn to depend on herself.
Don’t forget to take people around the character into account; they may end up having more influence on the character than anything else.
The second part of backstory that I’m going to talk about today are the places and events that shape your character’s life. This is probably the most obvious bit of backstory creation. A few examples off the top of my head: a soldier spends five years fighting in a war only to struggle with fitting back in to civilian life at their return; a character’s parents die in a car crash the character is partly responsible for, leading the character to think they were the sole cause of their parents’ death; a character accidentally gets a second-degree burn from an iron and is from then on terrified of ironing (this one actually happened to me when I was seven or eight, although I’ve overcome my fear since then).
However, the opposite may be the case. Maybe your character had a pretty unexciting childhood and now they seek out excitement in dangerous ways. Or maybe, as in the case of Siri, they’ve had an uneventful life so far, so when their world shifts, they have no idea how to keep up with it and find their footing.
This is probably the easier part of creating a backstory, for obvious reasons, but essential nonetheless.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be continuing this series next Tuesday, as always, but I’ll be posting on Friday and Sunday too.