By Jill Williamson
I notice a lot of perfect characters in novels, especially male heroes in romance novels written by women…
Those authors might argue, “He’s not perfect! He has a scar.” Or “He’s not perfect! He refuses to forgive his brother for stealing his fiancé.”
Well, normal people have more than one imperfection. And real people tend to have a few more flaws than justifiable bitterness or a facial flaw.
To start, I want to talk about backstory. That’s kind of a bad word for new writers. I was always being told to cut out my backstory.So I’ve decided to do a series of posts on characterization. We’re going to explore different ways to make our characters feel three dimensional, alive, and real. And we’re not just going to look at imperfections. We’re going to look at good things too.
But I’m not talking about writing each character’s backstory into your novel. I’m talking about brainstorming it for yourself, to get to know your characters.
People develop personality through life experience. The first and most powerful influencers of a person’s personality are the parents. Think about each major character in your novel. What kind of parents do they have? Did these parents love by hugs, gifts, service? Did they criticize? Did they have addictions? Were they leaders in their community? Did they favor one child over another? Did they neglect all or one of their kids?
These childhood experiences tend to create very different people. A child who had lots of hugs and kisses from their parents generally feels secure and self-confident. A child loved by gifts could turn out a bit materialistic, or he just might appreciate nice things, or he might strive for a good job so that he can give his loved ones nice things too.
Whether or not your character has siblings affect his life experience. And his birth order is also a very important factor. I recommend that every writer own a book on birth order. It’s fascinating.A person who was loved by service could be a doer who takes care of people in a similar manner by cooking or cleaning, or he might be totally lazy, expecting that someone will do these things for him. A person with critical parents may think she can’t do anything right. It’s all how the child interpreted the actions of his parents that first shaped his personality. So take some time to think of each main character’s childhood and the people and events that shaped him.
Some other backstory elements to consider:
-Major life crisis (Deaths in the family, divorce, job losses, moving, abuse)
-Race and ethnicity
-Looks (Attractive people have different life experiences than unattractive ones. Also, if you consider a scar or birth defect, brainstorm where it came from and how your character feels about it.)
-Affluence or poverty
Take some time and think about your main characters. Choose one and write up a full backstory. Make sure to list names of family members that live close, and come up with some general descriptors for these people that will help you start to define who your character is. Share what you discovered in the comments.