Five Great Quotations for Aspiring Writers
Four writing prompts: Dreams

How to create a character’s background

One of 11188275_10152716513020216_6633954827610514524_nthe most important steps you can take when outlining a short story is to create your main character’s background. This is not necessarily information used in your story but is in your head as you write it.

Why think about this? Since stories center on characters’ goals in conflict with one another, knowing not just their goals but their motivations for them is vital. While those motivations will surface in the story, thinking about how they even came to be can help you better picture a character in your mind – and then on paper – as you draft the story.

To create this background, always begin by thinking about the character’s goal or objective in the story. For example, suppose our character is searching for a place where she feels comfortable.

Next, determine what is the character’s motivations for achieving this goal/objective. Suppose that the character has never liked any community she has lived in, has always felt like an outsider in them. This unsettling feeling has left her feeling alienated and her social needs unfulfilled. Her motivation is to feel like she fits in and to have positive relationships with people who live in her community.

All of that is quite abstract, of course. So you want to develop the character’s background by deciding how various life events resulted in her having that motivation. To that end, you night ask yourself:
• What does the character most fear? What event caused this fear?
• What are her favorite things (food, movies, TV shows, songs, books)?
• What are her mannerisms?
• What are three things she might commonly say?
• What are her attitudes?
• What are her habits?
• What is her appearance? How does she dress?

Be very specific and detailed when answering these questions. For example, to “What are her mannerisms?” you might say about our outcast character that she is excessively self-conscious and so tends to hang at the back of the crowd, feels more comfortable in more dimly section of a room filled with people, casts her gaze downward to avoid eye contact, and never initiates the conversation (at least not without feeling her stomach churning). Perhaps she is this way because she grew up in a very critical family in which everything had to be just right.

Knowing those details can help you write the solution to the character’s problem. For example, perhaps the problem isn’t the community she lives in but the fact that isolates herself in each one. To fit in, she will need to step out of her shell.

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