Writing Tip: Character Backgrounds

Sometimes I like to create extremely detailed backgrounds for my characters. Though I don’t go into as much detail as I did with my very first novel, I still put a lot of work into making my characters “come to life.”

For my first novel I went through things such as my characters favourite colours, the foods they liked to eat, their family members, their pets (if they had any), their preferred styles of clothing, their favourite genres…etc. I gave them birthdays (I even celebrated them), and full names and talked about them to my family and friends as though they were actual people. Sometimes I would go through my day pretending to be them in certain situations (I don’t recommend this…unless you want to be more confident playing basketball).

The amount of work I put into that novel (which became a 6 book series) was…well it was fun but it did distract me from things like school and that wasn’t okay. Plus some of the stuff was a little…let’s just say much. I was only thirteen then, and I didn’t have a laptop or a cellphone so…I had spare time to be imaginative.

Anyway, now instead of writing out complete profiles for characters, I only write out things that are of extreme importance to me. Things that have an effect on the story and my characters progression throughout. It still takes work, and it still takes time but it is worth it. Trust me.

I’d like to caution you not to…well put too much into your characters back story. A complicated back story is hard to express throughout the novel without it a) stressing you out and b) making the character hard to follow and also…a bit annoying.

It’s alright to have a tragic back story for your characters, but do so in a delicate fashion. Don’t just throw things into the story because it’s “dramatic” and “heart-wrenching.” As a book lover and an author…I find that stuff irritating.

I don’t mind if Bob’s parent’s were tragically killed in a car accident when he was little and that he has to live with his abusive grandfather, who hates him because his daughter married Bob’s father without her father’s blessing. Bob’s dream is to become a jockey but his grandfather is against it because he doesn’t think Bob will make much money. That’s a back story that has some depth and explanation…it’s saying “Yah this character’s an orphan and his grandpa’s a jerk” without adding in unnecessary background drama that does absolutely nothing for the story.

For example, Bob’s grandfather’s great-uncle Hank was trampled by a team of horses right in front of him. Bob also has a prosthetic leg because of the car accident. He has horrible flash backs about his first love being run over by a drunk driver while they were racing each other across the street. Bob’s claustrophobic and his grandfather is dying of a rare disease that eats away at your bones…or something.

Do not do that! Please! I am begging you!

I’ve read so many short stories by young people and they throw in so much of this…”drama” thinking that it’s good. This isn’t anime guys! Stop! Just stop! I’m trying to help you…please no over dramatic, tragic back stories. Please….

Well that’s all for now.

Write on!

— R.

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