1. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    How much diversity is too much?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lea`Brooks, Apr 20, 2016.

    I've been working on my current story for way too long now. I've finished the first draft and second draft online. But while reading a particularly good book recently, I realized my characters are very flat. They had personality, but no history. No connections. No substance. They were just paper dolls acting out a role. So I started making back stories for them. And while it's working out great and I can't already feel my story growing, I'm worried it's too much.

    For example... Seren's parents were killed by a sickness taking over the world. Caius's father died in an accident and now helps take care of his aging mother. Verda is the eldest of four girls; her father ran out on them when her mother became sick, and now she's the sole provider for her family. Levon is the middle of seven children and part of the royal family. And Echo is an orphan, passed around through foster homes, with a twin brother she doesn't know about.

    Is that too much? Should I have more characters with happily in tact families, or (in my twisted story's case) more characters whose parents died by the sickness taking over the world? I just worry a reader will hear my characters back stories and think I added them strictly for drama. Though I guess that's a stupid thing to worry about...

    Thanks for reading. :D
     
  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    It depends on the presentation.
    I mean, The Gentleman Bastard series is all about kids who were orphaned and trained to be thieves or murderers.
    Not a single one of them comes from a happy place.

    So, it's not new or cliche.
    Unless everyone one of them is "the chosen one" trope.

    Just remember, backstory is meaningless without context or actual interaction within the presented story.
     
  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    For me, backstories feel shoehorned in for drama when they're infodumped at me. It's like the author is waving going "This is Jane. Jane was born to horrible parents blah blah..." Your characters need detailed back stories but the reader doesn't need all the detail.

    It'd also probably be noticeable if all your characters had absentee fathers or were all orphans or all had abusive parents, unless there was a world reason like there'd been a war where all fathers had to serve.
     
  4. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    I don't think that any of those are too much. The more, the merrier. In fact, you don't even have to include everyting you come up with for each character, but it will make them come alive in your head while writing them. If one reacts a certain way, you know why. You may either chose to tell us, or not. Of course you have to tell us the important things.
     
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  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The only trouble I have with writer's adding in troubled backgrounds is sometimes they don't line up with the characters outlook. The characters are way too logical, strong and well adjusted to support the backgrounds given. That would only be my issue. If you're going to give them backgrounds utilize them to the fullest.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with Peach, as usual.

    This is my just thinking out loud, so read it as statements or questions or both....

    In my personal process it seems a strange thing to do. If I were to give a character a backstory after the fact, it would rewrite that character, and I doubt that anything I had already written that includes that character would be the same. I have rethought the backstory of characters when I realized they were simply wrong for their roll in their original form. One of my characters, Amila, had to be redone because I realized that the sweet simple girl I had conjured to begin with would never, ever be in the role of importance she has in the story. She needed to be a much savvier, more thoughtful, more clever person. I rewrote her and three chapters of Amila that already existed went to the bin. In the same story, the character of Brenn started off as your basic cookie cutter "Disney Prince" hottie, son of Lady Blahblahblah, and the soon-to-be lover of Tevin, handsome blond sailor made of sea salt and muscle. And then... that proved to be super boring and cliché and I ran out of anything to write about them in just pages. Big whoop. Two hotties hook up; The End. Bleh. So instead I rewrote Bren to be the not-so-hottie, slightly soft, rather meek son of Lady Blahblahblah who catches Tevin's eye one night when Tevin is feeling like having a bit of someone-I-haven't-done-before-and-usually-wouldn't, and lo and behold, sparks! Now I have things to write! Angst! Insecurity! Jealousies! In both directions. Position and Name vs. Beauty and Self-Confidence. Things to be learned from both sides. Story!

    Hmmmm. So, yeah, maybe I have done what you're doing. Sorry to drag you through my thought process. :) But as Peach said, it can't just be accessories that end up not matching the outfit. It all has to go together.
     
  7. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I second @Wreybies and @peachalulu
    Most of the time, backstories come first as they explain why your character is the way he is and not the other way around.
    I mean, if you have a character who's oddly nimble with his fingers and has a loose moral compass when it comes to private property, odds are he had experiences or a life before becoming what he is today that somehow relates, right?

    Character's don't need backstories to be deep or interesting though, just throwing that out there.
    It depends on the genre and the style.
    A story can be self-contained and all about the present and backstory would just wash it down.
     
  8. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    All great points, thank you!

    Yes, I definitely won't infodump. I feel I'm pretty good at revealing just enough to be relevant without adding too much -- or at least I've been complimented on my ability to do so in the past. :p

    Exactly. I haven't even decided how much of their back stories I'd reveal or when. It's going to be at least two books, so lots of time to get to know them. In those special moments when the characters are bonding, it's just nice to have that info available to discuss.

    Definitely! I feel they line up very well with the characters. Just as an example, Verda, being the sole caretaker for her family, has also taken on that role in the story. She got a job as a maid, working for Seren, so she's very motherly. And Caius, being the son of the old Commander of the Guard, is very strict about rules and doing your duty no matter the cost. So I think I did alright with the backstory. If anything, I feel my characters told them to me instead of me planning them out. :p I barely had to think about them. They all just came together.

    I've done this too. :p My first version of Seren was much different than she is now. Her backstory has stayed the same, but I realized her attitude toward life would be much different than I originally planned. So now she's tougher, colder, and generally more disconnected from life. And Caius was originally supposed to be her love interest. He was sweet and thoughtful, and being her guardian, they were together all the time. But then I introduced Levon, and his connection with Seren was much more intense than with Caius. Their personalities just meshed better. So I had to go back and rewrite Caius, making him more stern and difficult, thus changing his backstory a bit.

    I know it seems odd to add backstory this late... And I don't necessarily mean that they're shallow without it. I think I just understand them better now that they have one. I know why Echo is angry and Verda is kind and Caius is stern and Levon is flighty. So when the time comes to put them in difficult situations, I feel better able to look at who they are and what they've become and write the scene accordingly.

    Geez, I feel like I'm talking about real people. :p This writing thing is strange, feeling so connected to imaginary characters.
     
  9. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    add your backstories, rewrite your book utilizing them naturally, (don't be lazy) and you may have a winner. since none of these pertain to the main plot, it will only add spice to the bland soup
     
  10. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm not saying you haven't done this cause I don't know your story but I'd watch out that the background doesn't line up just to give the mc what they'd want anyway. No matter if Verda is motherly having the father cut out at the wrong time should leave her somewhat untrusting, overburdened, and overwhelmed.
     
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  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My characters tend to come into existence in the present, sometimes in a scene, and I look at the character that has popped into my head and figure out why they are the way they are.

    For example, the girl behind the counter in a shop filled with doll arms and legs and heads. I know things about her--for example, she's smart, and she's frightened. So questions come up:

    Why is she there?
    - She works there.
    Why is she frightened?
    - Um...
    Why is the shop empty?
    - It has hardly any customers. It's owned by some old person who used to do doll repair, but now they just do a little bit of business mailorder.
    Why do they need someone behind the counter, then?
    - They're living in the past. They always think customers will come in. They don't pay much.
    So why does she work there?
    - Aha! Because she's frightened! She's hiding from someone. So she's working a job with little visibility, in a small town. She sleeps in the back..maybe.
    So she doesn't do doll repair?
    - Nope.
    OK, so what's she afraid of?
    - She was living with a commune. She witnessed something seriously criminal, and ran away because the something indicated that they'd probably kill her for knowing.
    What did she witness?
    - I don't know yet. She'll tell me.
    Why was she at the commune?
    - I don't know yet. She'll tell me.

    And so on and so on.
     
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  12. IHaveNoName
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    IHaveNoName Active Member

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    If they feel like real people, then you're doing it right. :)
     
  13. TheApprentice
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    TheApprentice Contributing Member

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    Maybe the tragic stories are necessary for the characters to be heroes. A person with a totally happy life with everything given to them just won't have the grit as good as someone who has struggled but fights on nevertheless.
     
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  14. Pauline
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    Pauline Member

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    Back stories shape the character. You must know everything, but maybe only 5 percent of that bleeds onto the page. Your characters decisions are based on what you know about them. The purpose of their histories, for me at least, is to make sense of why they act and react as they do
     
  15. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's an excellent point I hadn't thought of. lol Thank you!
     
  16. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I'm sorry but that's a horribly cliched view of character.

    The hero with humble origins belongs in a different era. It's a cheap story telling ploy to have a character who resonates with 'the common man' without actually making them an interesting character. It's the same as saying 'How 'bout dem Cowboys?' in Dallas. It'll get you a pop but it's cheap and false.

    Aside from anything else; tragedy touches all of us. We all love, we all lose and we all grieve. To suggest that you can't be 'pure of heart' enough to be heroic simply because you never worried about being ethnically cleansed is bordering on the offensive. The point of heroism is that anyone can be a hero. It's a choice you make that's only about that moment. Bad people can become heros, so can good people and so can rich people.

    Do you think every soldier is only a hero because they had a tough life? No, they are heroes because they chose to run towards gun shots. It's not something bred into you, it's not something you're taught by the school of hard knocks; it's something that lives in the moment.

    Do you think that the 'privileged' young officers who marched to war in the front rank of their men were any less heroic as they were mown down by machine guns? They knew they were in the position of greatest danger, the primary target for any enemy. They knew they were going to die. They went anyway. Are you going to tell me they aren't proper heroes because they went to Eton?
     
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  17. Sidetrack
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    When you say you are not sure if the reader will notice you were just creating dramatic back stories, it makes me think their back stories are not connected to their actions in the story.

    My impression is that back story is written to find/develop and understand a character's intention and motivation. You can boil that all down to a few character traits for each character. Those character traits will determine the way the character's act. Back story evolves to character traits. Character traits evolve to character actions. It's all connected.

    How important is it for the reader to know all of the existing parts of the character's back story? Does it pertain directly to their actions in the story? If not, it possibly could be unnecessary details.

    Since you did it in reverse, I would ask myself based on what the characters do, what events in a back story would make them do that? But again, do you really need to mention it?
     
  18. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for your reply. But I've already answered all of these questions in my last post. lol
     
  19. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Depends on the person as to how they react, but yeah, it would be stressfull .
     
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  20. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    That's where it comes to minutiae. No-ones life is truly 100% happy. And there are plenty of very serious problems a comfortable and relatively happy life can have. And indeed, if they are really quite happy, not much in the way, then it's interesting to explore the effect of truly bad things on them.
     
  21. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    I sometimes have backstory as a core aspect of the character, but often I figure out the backstory after I've already been writing awhile. I don't think the order matters - what matters is that the character fits their backstory, not which one you thought up first. And if anything that might be more likely if the backstory came first, because I often can't exactly control how a character turns out.
     
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  22. Callista Reina
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    Callista Reina Member

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    I tend to view backstory as something fluid anyway. It doesn't necessarily matter if you came up with it first because, even if you did, you might end up changing it as you go along anyway (which you still might do). And I don't think it matters if a lot of your characters backgrounds are gritty or not, as long is it feels organic and doesn't feel like drama for the sake of drama. I think that grittiness and drama have to be sincere and have adequate explanation, but that doesn't mean that there can't be a lot of it or that it can't be good.
     
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  23. Gareth MH
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    Gareth MH Member

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    I think the reader should know enough about the backstory of the characters that they understand the decisions that they make. For example, a character running away from a lion thats trying to eat them requires no backstory. No one wants to be eaten so that characters decision to run away is obvious.

    However if a character finds a wallet dropped by a wealthy person and they choose to keep the money and throw it away rather than return it, that would require some backstory (although not at the time in the narrative where they make the decision, ideally it would be seamlessly be inserted through the action before then) it may be something as simple as he/she has always been poor and downtrodden and the money could enable them to pay for some medicine for their sick child. That would make them a sympathetic character. Or the backstory could be the person is a petty criminal who's spiteful of those better off than they are. That would make for an unsympathetic character.

    But backstory should inform the characters decisions when there isn't only one path to take. And the reader needs to know enough to understand those decisions. That way if the character is making a mistake the reader doesn't just disengage and decide that its just a poorly written plot. It comes in handy when you need your character to make bad decisions to get themselves into trouble when their backstory informs us that they don't know any better, 0r that its worked in the past etc.
     
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