In writing, there are round characters and flat characters. Flat characters are just like they sound: flat. No depth. A writer wouldn’t go into much detail about who they are or their background. The flat characters are simply there to help advance the story.
Round characters, however, do more than advance the story. They have depth and typically change throughout the story. These characters need background–whether you share their backstory or not is up to you, the writer, but you’ll discover that without the backstory, your characters will feel flat regardless of how you try otherwise.
So, how do you develop round characters with a backstory? Here are some ideas that seem to work for me:
- Give them a full name: middle and all. You may never use the middle name, but it’s there nonetheless. Include maiden names and reasons behind the name. For example, my novel has a music theme running through it, so I gave my character the middle name of “Cadence.” However, that is not reason enough. Therefore, in her backstory, it’s a family name on her mother’s side–a maiden name passed down generations. That provides a strong family tie as well as a music-themed name (without it being too cheesy or obvious).
- Create a family tree. Who are their parents? Grandparents? Etc. Go as far back as you want. Having family ties helps you know your characters and helps define their goals and motivations. Think about yourself: do you know where you came from? Does that give you pride? How does knowing your own background influence how you act or talk? Do you have an accent? Does your character have an accent? Think about it in depth. If you don’t know your heritage, then how does that influence you?
- Give your character a birth date and then look up their horoscope. You would be amazed at how much a horoscope can help define your character. For example, one main character I’m working on is fairly selfless and has some psychic tendencies. I looked through the different horoscope readings and discovered that Pisces was the perfect fit. From there, I figured out her birthday and even the day she was conceived. It may never come up in the story, but I know who she is, so if I decide to write a sequel, then I’ve got all kinds of information.
- Put this backstory into a separate document. I have the entire family’s backstory in a separate document. It could turn into a prequel–you just never know.
- Not sure where to start? Conduct an interview with your character. It may seem funny at first, but you’ll soon lose yourself into the activity. Keep in mind that your reader is going to spend a lot of time with this person (people), so you want to make them likeable. If you don’t like spending time with this person, then your reader won’t either–although, there is something to be said for creating hated characters… More on that next time.
Try this blog for more ideas.
What methods do you use to help create round characters? Tell me in the comments.
The Witty Owl