Character Creation/Character background

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This section covers the creation of the character's background. The background is essential, even if it is not actually detailed in the story. As well as making the character more interesting and adding depth to the story, the author uses the background to ensure the character's behaviour remains consistent. For example, in one scene a character may take the stairs instead of the lift and consequently become involved in a situation. Earlier in the story the character may have used the lift and the reader will spot the inconsistency. But if the author has written up the background and stated that the character is claustrophobic, then they are less likely to forget that the character wouldn't use a lift.

The basics[edit]

Start out with writing down some of the basic facts:

  • Is your character male, female, neuter (say, a computer intelligence) or something of your own invention?
  • Where was your character born?
  • How old are they?
  • What is their current job?
  • What are their interests outside their job?
  • Who do they love? And who did they used to love?
  • Who are their enemies and friends?

Heritage[edit]

Now think about the character's heritage. Is your character Irish, German, African-American or from a made-up place? Make sure you try to bring out your character's heritage in their actions. Use the way they pronounce things, and how they feel about things to flag up their background. It is good practice to make your character with many different heritages, that way it will seem more realistic as real people have many different heritages in their history.

Your character's heritage (and current nationality) can affect other aspects of the character. For instance, if Brian is from Ireland, he will probably speak with an Irish accent, and be light skinned, and likely has a lot of freckles. Sancho, conversely, who is from Mexico, would speak with a Mexican accent, is probably dark skinned, and is treated differently by people than Brian.

But equally you should strive to avoid the stereotypes - Germans aren't all taciturn and humourless, Italians aren't all frivolous and amorous. Sometimes doing the opposite of the stereotypical view will surprise and interest your reader. How about a teetotal Australian?

Don't be afraid to try something original when creating a character. How about a character from the Côte d'Ivoire, even if it necessitates some research on that country?

When the heritage is made-up, for example your character is an alien, then you will have to work much harder to explain to the reader how their heritage affects their behaviour.

Empathise, don't sympathise[edit]

You need to understand why your character behaves the way they do. Don't give them motivations that you can't understand - because then you won't be able to write effectively about them. On the other hand, don't sympathise. If you find yourself feeling sorry for the character you'll be tempted to lessen the problems the character faces which will weaken the story.

"Roundedness"[edit]

Very few real people are monomaniacs. Your character should have things that drive them and things that repel them - but there should be more than one. Nobody is just a homicidal killer, nobody is just a mother caring for her children. For your character to feel real they must have enough traits to make the reader feel the person is more than just a caricature.

Name[edit]

The name of the character is important as names can have particular associations in certain cultures. For example, names like Adolf, Jesus and Mohamed immediately conjure an image of the real person with that name. It is usually best to choose the name last after the character is fully defined. This prevents you, the author, from creating a stereotype. Of course, these preconceptions can be useful ways of misleading the reader - naming a character who will sacrifice his life for others "Adolf" may trick the reader and create a strong surprise.