We read over our story drafts, checking for holes. Mid-story, the MC does something out of character, smacking us dead in the face. There doesn’t always have to be a neatly packaged explanation complete with bow, but there had better be enough in there to smooth out the rough edges.
Still, after trimming some story filler, no resolution can be found for certain character motive/action. But wait, a light bulb flickers in the mind as we come up with the perfect back story to make it work. Some writers plot a back story before they start writing it all out. There is no right or wrong way to do this…maybe a right or wrong time. Our characters don’t necessarily tell us their back story upfront. They can hold back a bit, like a new friend might, only sharing a part of them at first.
The back story is a clever or fitting explanation of character reaction, behavior and decision that supplies recollection of a character’s past to answer our need to know the who, what, where, when, why and how better.
You know the “Ah-ha” that leaves our mouths when we remember reading something from earlier in a book and now it makes perfect sense?
I must admit…big fan of the back story in books and t.v. shows. One of my all time favorite back stories is from Joss Whedon’s Angel series. David Boreanaz played Angel (exceptionally well), a vampire agonizing with his past, evil-self Angelus, the deplorable things he did as Angelus, the love he could never keep because of a gypsy curse, forcing him to seek humanity, forgiveness. Whedon and crew found a way to add more and more of Angel’s back story as Angelus, delving deeper into the wickedness of the tortured vamp.
The past of Charles Dickens’ Scrooge character shines the light on why Ebeneezer Scrooge became such a dark, bitter man. He gained our sympathy, if only for mere moments, as we experienced the good things in his life being ripped away from him over and over.
The fun part about creating back stories is that you can shape and bend them to your will to make it plausible. I enjoyed learning the back story of what really happened between Hades and Persephone in my sequel for TOO series, Battle for the Throne (coming soon). This was one of my favorite parts to write early on in the story, even though the dark rulers were more minor characters.
Is there a specific method you use to carve a character back story?
Below is a link to a cool article on writing character back story: