Friday, April 27, 2012

Characters Should Have a Past



There are many elements that contribute to making for believable and relatable characters.  We know we need to assign idiosyncrasies, strong belief systems, weaknesses and strengths, qualities that make our readers fall in love with them, and other characteristics that reel them back.  Incorporating these variances create perfect characters because they come alive.  As is the case with real life people exhibit different facets to their personalities, and so should our characters.

So what about back-story?  Maybe the word conjures up a negative connotation for you.  As we set out in our writing journey and hone our craft, we know we have to watch how we infuse this into our stories.  But today's discussion isn't so much on back-story and how to weave this in effectively.  (For a post on this see:  Incorporating Backstory.)

Today, I'd like to focus on how a past assigned to our characters creates "real people".*  We're told to start our stories where the action is.  This advice makes sense because it serves to pull in our readers from the first page.  They want to know what's going to happen, they become invested with the characters--connected.

Related to this topic though, why would we assume our characters don't have a past?  As real people don't we have a past?  These experiences shape and mold us into the person we have become.  In fact, you wouldn’t even have a book if your characters didn’t have a past, or you would start at their birth and work your way to action--yawn.

So, the question is to you the author, do your characters have a past?  They should--and they need to.  But how it is weaved into the plot is at the discretion of your skills and aptitude.

How do you get to know your character’s past?

1) Interview them
2) Question their reactions to a scene (especially useful as a “panster” style writer).  Are they reacting a certain way just because of the moment, or does it go back farther?
3)  Keep writing them.  There’s no doubt we know our characters intimately by the end of a book.  Most times we don’t want to let them go.  Use this deeper knowledge when you go back through to edit and re-write.

What are some ways you’ve used to get to know your character’s better?

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*For an in depth look at Creating Characters You Can Pinch, see the 7-part series here.