Writing Tip of the Week: Give your Characters a Back Story

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Hey guys. Sorry for the delay. I’ve had some things going on in my personal life, including health issues. Hopefully I’ll be back to posting more regularly now. Don’t forget about your “love” writing prompt that is due at the end of the month. There’s only about a week left!

Today’s writing tip concerns one of the most important elements of your story: the character(s).

I don’t know about you, but characters tend to make a book either great or horrible. If there aren’t any characters you can root for, I think it’s very hard to care about what happens to them. If you hate the entire cast of characters, it’s likely that you will also hate the book (as well as probably find reading it painful). So one of the most important goals of a writer should be to make characters that readers can like, or at least be able to relate to or sympathize with.

If you find yourself having trouble writing your characters or you have readers who tell you that they need work, here’s one thing that you can do to hopefully make them stand out better: give them a back story. Think about it for a moment. Every human on this planet has a back story. Each of us has a past that is unique, even if it may be similar to another person’s past. No one has the same POV even if our lives are alike. Our past also shapes who we are (for better or for worse). Giving a character a back story should help make them more real, which helps both you and your readers better connect to them.

Here’s an example from one of my works:

prfc

Meet Peace Dawson.

In Peace Represent, she’s a sixteen-year-old girl who lives with her parents in one of the worst areas of a small urbanized town. Both of her parents have been alcoholics since they lost their jobs and loved ones. They once lived in a nicer part of town. Peace’s father is also abusive toward Peace’s mother. Her mother finds it difficult to keep a job and her father refuses to work, so they are forced to survive off of government help.

Despite her poor home life, Peace is intelligent, driven, and wants to create a better future for herself. Her parent’s downfall has disgusted her to the point of never wanting to end up like them and she pushes herself to do well. This is an example of Peace’s past shaping her–the bad parts of her life encourages her to seek something better. She is also surrounded by a close knit group of inspiring friends, particularly her best friend, Joyreva. Peace’s strong relationships with her friends is another thing from her past that has shaped her into who she is when Peace Represent begins. Her ties to her past and with others continues to influence her path and behavior throughout the book.

I’ve discovered that most of my readers  (keep in mind that you will probably always have an exception or two even if you have the most likable character on Earth) could easily relate to Peace because of her past. Many of us have a few (or more) ugly things lurking in our closets. It’s natural to feel a connection to someone else who has experienced something similar. Readers who haven’t had such terrible things happen to them can still relate to Peace on some level, or at least want to see her achieve her dreams. In the real world, most of us want to see others who have it harder than we do succeed. Why should it be any different when it comes to fictional characters?

peace

Some Things to Consider When Plotting a Character’s Back Story:

* What kind of personality/behavior do you want them to have? Why would they act the way they do (a.k.a. what IS their back story)? Who has influenced their lives?

* How has your character’s past influenced their life? How will it continue to do so?

* What are your character’s goals/dreams? How has their past or relationships with others affected this? What inspires your character to seek (or not seek) their dreams?

* Don’t expect to use all of your back story in your book. A lot of it will be things that only you, the creator, knows. Your readers don’t need to know every little detail of a character’s past. When I first wrote Peace Represent, the first chapter was pretty much just back story. Many revisions later, I only have little hints of Peace’s back story in the actual novel. Not telling your reader everything will also add some mystery to your character. After all, would you want to read about a character’s entire history within the first chapter or logically puzzle it together throughout the entire book?

* If you are having trouble creating good side characters, make them a back story as well. Even if you never go into detail about their history in the book, it should help you to get to know your character better and be able to write them more vividly. Make sure to include how their involvement with the main character has also shaped their life.

* You can use character profiles, outlines, diagrams, and more to develop your character’s past.

These are just a few ideas to help you get started. I hope that these tips have helped. Please continue to leave me comments if there is a particular writing weakness in your life and I will do my best to cover it.

jncahill_name

 

 

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