I have written before about incorporating back story into your novel but today I wanted to focus on building your character back story. This is something that you need to do BEFORE you begin writing. And not all of this backstory will make it into the story but it will help you develop strong, believable characters.
Now you don’t have to do this for all characters but for your main characters, you will need to know the events and circumstances that made them the person they are today. Everything in their past as well as their innate personality traits will dictate their action, which in turn drives the plot of your story.
Reasons you should know your character’s backstory
- You will know which major events in their past may affect their motivation during the main story arc
- You are able to inject subtle clues about your character’s past into your narrative which can create mystery and interest your reader
- Your character’s past may be a major driving force of the main plot
- By understanding your character’s history, you may discover the perfect opeing scene for your story
At the very minimum, you should know the basics for every character – what they look like, what occupation they have and a general sense of what they want.
For your main characters (and some minor characters) you should know even more of their history. To do this, you can fill out a character worksheet, create a timeline or write a short narrative.
These list the physical description (age, height, manner of dress, etc.), personal characteristics (goals, hobbies, likes, dislikes, etc.), living situation (occupation, home, pets) and background (birthplace, education, family) of your character. You can probably find an actual worksheet somewhere online. Or email me and I will send you the one I have. (I will admit that I don’t use this as it doesn’t lend itself to fantasy characters as well as it would characters in a more contemporary setting.)
Another option is to create a timeline or outline of your characters history. Starting with their birth, add in other major events that happened to your character up until the time the story begins. These would need to be extensive for major characters and could be sparser for minor characters.
If you don’t want to do an outline or a timeline, you may just want to write a couple paragraghs (or pages) that chronical their lives. You just need to be sure to include all the basics – family life, education, likes, and major events and so on.
Creating character back story can be a time-consuming task. But doing so will build strong, solid characters that come to life for your readers.