Developing Character Backgrounds

Creating a compelling and realistic character goes far beyond describing their physical appearance or immediate desires and actions. You must develop a character’s past or background, which gives them depth and relatability. Remember, you’re not just writing about a fictional character; you’re essentially giving birth to an entire being.

Why Character Backgrounds Are Important

Developing Character Backgrounds

Interesting character backgrounds provide context for the character’s behaviors and life choices. They’re the backbone of the character’s identity and the foundation supporting their story arc.

Building a Character’s Past: Roots and Upbringing

A character’s upbringing plays a significant role in their identity formation. Consider their roots, socioeconomic status, family and friend dynamics, or any significant events during their formative years.

A character raised in poverty will probably value hard work and perseverance. A character from a wealthy family might take certain privileges for granted. These are details that readers pick up on and help them to understand your characters better.

Personal Experiences: Life Events That Shape Your Character

Major life events and personal experiences contribute greatly to character development. Trauma, loss, accomplishments and relationships are tools you can use to help shape a character’s worldview and behavior to make them more real.

Education and Skills: Intellectual Formation of Your Character

Their educational background and learned skills affect their dialogue, problem-solving strategies and societal position.

Imagine a character who attended an Ivy League school and was a straight-A student. Their dialogue would be full of large words, and they might be the person always correcting others, etc.

However, a character who was raised in a public-school environment and might have struggled academically would be a quiet character who uses simple words to communicate their thoughts and emotions.

These aren’t hard-and-fast rules, and you certainly don’t have to stereotype characters (readers hate that anyway), but these things are important to consider when building a person on paper. It should affect who they are.

Character Quirks and Habits: The Results of Their Past

Even the smallest details, like a character’s quirks and habits, can be tied back to their background. A character who constantly checks their watch could hint at a past event that made them value punctuality. Likewise, someone who bites their nails incessantly could be dealing with anxiety problems rooted in a past experience.

How Character Backgrounds Influence the Story

Character backgrounds add not only depth to the people you create but also to the story itself. They provide motives, easily create conflicts and make everyone’s reactions more believable.

Subtly Revealing Your Character’s Background: The Art of Exposition

When it comes to revealing your character’s background, subtlety is key. Rather than info-dumping all the details, sprinkle bits of their past throughout the story, letting readers piece it together.

A great way to do this is with dialogue between them and other characters. Have them ask questions and explain things so the details unfold naturally.

A great case study to look at is two series by Sarah J. Maas— “A Court of Thorns & Roses” and “Crescent City.” In “Crescent City,” the first 200 pages of the first book are quite literally info-dumping about the fantasy world. However, the author takes her time in “A Court of Thorns & Roses,” carefully sprinkling all the details of the people and world over five books.

Go Deep

A well-crafted character background adds depth and authenticity to your characters, making them more relatable and their actions more understandable to your readers.