Are you struggling to flesh out a character that feels authentic? Have you lost inspiration for designing a side character? Turns out- the key is actually fairly simple. You need a backstory for your character. These are the events that took place before the narrative, and essentially makes up a character’s past. A character backstory will not only add depth to your character, it strengthens them and makes them easier to write. Now, I’m not saying you need to write a whole life story for this character, but it is important you know their history and how that defines their personality. Let’s dive right in.
Benefits of Backstory
If you’re trying to write a character that is supposed to be tough and cool, there needs to be a reason behind it. The biggest question of literature is “why?” Why does your character do the things they do? The backstory will answer that question and help you as an author understand more deeply.
Character backstory will help develop a character so much easier. You can reference the backstory to make sure what the character is doing makes sense. All actions are defined by the character’s history. Take yourself for example; if you have a fear of heights- in future instances, you’d probably be inclined to avoid high places. That is your backstory. The same can be applied to your characters.
You can also apply the backstory into your writing, whether it be through flashbacks or dreams, or even just the way a character speaks or acts. Maybe the character lost someone close to them and now is bitter and closed off. It’s like putting together a puzzle, and the backstory is the pieces.
Perhaps one of the most important parts of a character’s backstory is the research that goes into it. This is important because if a character misrepresents an ethnicity, culture, or sexual orientation, it can be inherently offensive to that group. And we want to avoid that.
Now, it can be hard to write a character that you can’t relate to, and that’s why research is so important. Some ways to research a character’s heritage, culture or sexual orientation/gender identity can include interviews, non-fiction, articles, and blog posts. What I’ve found to be helpful in connecting with someone of that nature, such as speaking with someone who identifies as transgender, and asking them questions that can help your character. This can be so important to properly represent a minority or culture that you don’t have personal experience with.
Avoiding The Cliches
Something that always makes a character stand out is avoiding cliches. A main character who has two supportive parental figures? Amazing. A cliched backstory may cause your character to fall into “Mary-Sue” territory, which is a place we do not want to visit.
Make the backstory original. You know what character you want to create- so do it your way. Try to not copy your character off popular characters such as Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen. It’s completely fine to use a trait you liked, but creating an exact copy-cat can be a bit too obvious or bland.
How to Write a Backstory
So now you know the basics of a character backstory and you’re ready to go. Every author has their own tactics of writing backstory, including myself. I have a beat-up notebook that I jot down every random idea such as “Japanese cyborg” or “Russian mechanic”. Then I open a google doc for one character and reference the notebook to form the character into existence.
You can design your character however you’d like- that’s the beauty of it. You don’t need to start off at the birth of a character and as I mentioned above, write out their whole life story. I would write about the important and mundane events that you want to influence the story. Simple memories for the character that affect them in the story are what I’d use as a guideline to creating a backstory. Getting to know what makes your character tick. The very essence of your character.
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