In order to create compelling characters, it’s important to develop and fully understand their backstories. “What happened to the character prior to the beginning of the story or film? What was the character’s life like…birth, childhood, throughout school, etc.? What past relationships have influenced the character’s attitudes, beliefs, and goals?”
Naturally, a person born in New York City will have a different backstory than a person born in Midland, Texas.
• Their heritages will likely be different.
• Their cultures will be different.
• They will have differing educational experiences.
• They may come from different religious backgrounds…or none at all.
• Their parents may be divorced, remarried, or widowed.
• They may have many siblings, or few or none.
• Some siblings may be adopted, some may have disabilities.
Yet, the New Yorker and the Texan will likely share more things in common than with, for example, someone from the Darfur region of Sudan, Africa, or someone from Afghanistan or Pakistan.
It’s important that you consider as many of the aspects of your characters’ backstories as possible. You do not have to REVEAL the character’s entire backstory, but you must KNOW it all.
If you are writing fiction or screenplays, you have to know your characters intimately to bring them to life and make them believable. If you are writing news or feature articles, backstory could be relevant to current behavior. It could easily explain why people act the way they do.
I mentioned “influential relationships” in my opening paragraph. One of my personal influencers or, more accurately, “encouragers,” was Ole Loing, my seventh grade English teacher. He will always be a memorable part of my backstory, because he convinced me that writing is fun!
You might want to create a detailed fill-in-the-blanks form for each character, in which you make notes about family, upbringing, education, friendships, hobbies and interests, likes and dislikes, past medical issues…anything that makes your character the person he or she is today.
“Know them to write them” is my motto!
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