Q&A: Designing a Character’s Backstory

Question:

“When designing a tragic backstory for a character, what should be taken into consideration?”

Answer:

Adding to the great answers that have already been added Here on Quora, I’m just going to be really general about this.

When you are creating a backstory for a character, or when you’re building any character, you need to really KNOW your character.

What are his pet peeves? What does he like? What does he like in woman (if he has a preferred taste)? What does his room look like, and why did he choose this? What things does he have that other people may call him lucky? What things does he not have that he wishes he has? What kind of person is he in general? Does he look for the easy way out, even when he doesn’t realize he’s looking? Does he fight no matter how hard things get and is determined to be ‘ethical’, or to remain true to oneself? What’s his favorite color? What’s his favorite foods, and dislikes? What friends does he have, if any? How does his family act? Does he have any pets, and if so what names? Why these types of animal species? What is his favorite weapon, and why? Etc.

Some of these questions, such as what your favorite food is and color, seems a bit plain, but I promise you they are there for a reason. When it comes to creating a character, every little detail counts. If you are struggling, what you can do (and what a lot of author’s do) is base the character off someone they know. That doesn’t mean to go to that person and ask what their favorite color is, but what do YOU think they like and dislike? When you create your character, you’ll find that the characters began to build themselves, and so will the story.

In fact, that reminds me. When you create these characters, you’ll see that the story might change a little because of how they act. It’s kind of like…an equation. Sometimes, you have to change the equation to get the story you want (maybe you wanted one character, and realized you need to replace her with another one before writing) or maybe you realizes that it’s okay to have the story change a little bit, and you’ll keep the characters and see where things go. But, one thing that might help is creating a chart, or more like…a “questionnaire”.

First, I’m going to explain this and then I’m going to attach an example of this chart.

Separate your chart in three sections. On the far left, this is your list of things that changed the story because of a character. In the middle, this is your list of things that changed the story because of fate. On the far right, this is a list of characters (main, and side if you wanted) with a very brief description (such as 7-year-old, sister, abusive father, crush, etc.).

Now, began to rely what happens in your story. Maybe everything was running smoothly before a character changed things? Or before fate changed things? Or maybe things were already bad, but things only got worse until a character changed something up? What happened? Give a brief description. Remember, you don’t need to make it for someone else to understand, just you.

It can help to know what is changing your story, because after every change you need to ask yourself:

“How does [insert character here] react to this change?”

Asking this can not only improve your character development, but help you create the perfect tragic background story in order to create not only the perfect plot for you, but an accurate one and to become a better writer.

character_chart

For more helpful documents to aid you in your creative writing path, click the PDF below!

Brainstorming a Character – Plus, designing the perfect plot

 

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