Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Character Backstory

A character backstory seems like kind of an anal retentive thing to create, but it does help, right? What I do is think about my characters—a lot. But I’ve read a lot of books that recommend writing out a sheet of background information so you can get to know your main character better.

This post is really about detail, because knowing the details intimately about your character will help you understand why they do what they do. As I can barely understand why I do what I do at the best of times, this seems logical. Blogger Marsha had a great post last week that really stuck with me: is your main character you, or is it who you want to be? I can definitely pick out both cases in two different stories.

One of the people in my critique group is very detailed and in one of his critiques for me asked all kinds of detailed questions about the job that my main character has. I loved it because although I didn’t care about the job, or the people at the job, I loved knowing that level of detail. It all reflects back on the character and her actions. Example: how many people are employed at the company? Do they outsource their healthcare? Is healthcare even offered? What kind of retirement benefits do they get? Who administers it? Oh yes, you’re thinking. Who gives a flying fig about THAT. Well, as it happens, one of the other major characters in the book works at the company and might be in a position to know something about my main character purely based on the fact of her position at the company. So, in fact, it’s best to know.

You don’t have to create boring essays on who your character is. You can be fun. You can create lists. Here’s one about my current story that I’m editing:

List of Things My MC is Grateful for (at the start of the novel):
  1. She is relatively healthy.
  2. She is able to support herself.
  3. She is no longer with her stupid and controlling ex-husband.
  4. She has a great love interest.
  5. She does not have a conjoined twin growing out of her neck.

This kind of says that not a lot is great apart from her circumstances. I actually DO go through life being thankful that I do not have a conjoined twin growing out of my neck, but that’s me. I recognize that other people might be thankful for such a thing only when everything else is crappy.

List of Things My MC is Adamant About:
  1. Feeding her cat only the finest deli chicken salad. (He was a stray and when she found him, he was starving and eating poop. So she never wants him to suffer again. What does this say about her?)
  2. Making sure her current relationship works out. (Ah….this will suck when it doesn’t happen then, won’t it!)
  3. Having fun and experiencing new, exciting things in life. (Ah….and how will she feel when this doesn’t happen? What will she do to make sure she does experience such things?)
Incidentally, Lists of this sort are a character trait of my MC. So this works for me.


Tina Lynn said...

I find that number 5 tells me a lot about your MC :D

Girl Meets Gun said...

LMAO! Well, in reference to your last post, I'm swearing, but only because I find it appropriate. :)

I liked reading through your posts because you insert random comments here and there and it makes it more interesting! I do that ALL the time and I always feel like an amateur, but I say- it is for those who write from the heart, and those who laugh from the heart.

You give some great tips, too, for those of us who are still working on polishing their writing techniques. Awesome blog! :D

Sierra Godfrey said...

Thanks guys! Thanks for commenting, I love it! Of course now I have a raging complex about my side comments sounding amateurish...

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