The quality of your characters will form the foundation you desire for a strong story. In this four-part series, we’re looking at ways to develop three-dimensional, dynamic, story driving characters. Using the following seven-step framework, you can develop rich, complex, and multi-dimensional individuals:
1) Label their desire essences
2) Label their fear essences
3) Get specific about their past
4) Label their behavior
5) Raise their stakes
6) Don’t meddle in their lives
7) Let them play
In the previous article, we looked at the first two steps in this process: 1. Label their desire essences and 2. Label their fear essences.
In this installment, we’ll explore your characters’ backstories – where they came from – and then determine how their histories shape their behaviors. As we continue to the next two steps, you’ll take a great leap in crafting your characters into engaging parts of your story.
3. Get specific with your backstory
Human behavior is made up of a string of moments and the reactions to those moments. A character’s present is carved out by her past. Current behavior is a battle between fear and desire, and your character’s immediate choices are based on very specific (yet unconscious) experiences from her past – experiences that leave imprints much like DNA. Though your characters should be unconscious of these past experiences that have influenced them, you the writer must create these histories in your preparation of their backstory and be fully aware of them before you move into your manuscript or screenplay. Here is an example of what won’t benefit you versus what will when you get specific with backstory.
Bad example of getting specific:
Rachel is a pretty girl who thinks she is unattractive. She prefers to live in her books as opposed to being with friends or family. Her father abused her sexually throughout her youth. She hates attention.
Better example of getting specific:
On her graduation day, at a party her mother is throwing for her, Rachel’s father shows up drunk and congratulates her, hugging her too closely, grabbing her rear end with both hands, and calling her pretty in front of a room full of her friends and family. She runs away humiliated and hides in her room, escaping into one of her fantasy stories. That night she moves out to stay with a friend and doesn’t tell anyone where she is going. Two weeks later she finds out through another friend that her father died in a car accident. He was drunk.
In the better example of getting specific, the reader can have a visceral reaction to the words. This is caused by the detail. The generality of the bad reaction is logical, but
lifeless. In the better example, it is easy to determine what the essences of our leading lady might be: desire to hide, maybe even desire to die, desire to live in her books, desire to be valued for her intellect instead of her body, fear of loneliness, fear of her appearance, fear of the opposite sex, fear of losing a loved one, fear of being abandoned, fear of people who drink.
4. Describe their current behavior
Take the essences and the specific examples you have created and determine what kind of behavior your character might exhibit as a result of their past.
Our leading lady – a woman who hides her body, avoids friends from her past, mistrusts anyone who comments favorably on her appearance, desires to control her education and her intellect, and avoids alcohol.
In the next installment of this four-part series, you’ll put your characters into action and let them come to life.
In the meantime writers, keep your rear in the chair, your fingers on the keys, and your writing reaching for the stars.
About the Author
Corey Blake is President of Writers of the Round Table, Inc., a unique literary development and author management company that assists best-selling authors, directors, executives, magazines, publishers and producers to generate writing content of substantial quality and bring it to market. Visit Writers of the Round Table, Inc. at
http://www.writersoftheroundtable.com to receive a free quote on how we can help you bring YOUR characters to life!