1. PsychoFreaX
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    PsychoFreaX New Member

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    Tips for writing compellign backstories?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by PsychoFreaX, Feb 18, 2010.

    Now in my future Masterpiece:D I want to write a wide variety of characters who are both really entertaining and interesting. Now I know that's aiming for a lot but I can't be satisfied otherwise kay?

    So the thing about making the character interesting is that we need to connect them to the reader with a compelling backstory(which also looks deep into the motivation for their behavior). Which I would say I'm probably decent at except that compelling backstories are the kind of thing that just kind of springs up in my mind when I daydream and think of what I'm interested in. But it's not exactly something that I can just generate at will.

    I have about a small handful of good backstory ideas. But not exactly for 50 different characters just yet. Then from the backstory it's easy for me to give them traits, an appearance and a role in the story. So basically the more good backstory ideas the more characters:p

    So do you know any good tips for writing compelling character backstories? Can you share them? ;)

    PS: Sorry I made a typo on the thread title
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Just say no.

    Don't write backstory. Write stories. Stick with what you can see (+ hear + feel, etc) if the present time of the story. You only know backstory of people you know if they happen to tell you. They are just as interesting (or not) before you have any idea about their past.
     
  3. writewizard
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    writewizard Contributing Member

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    Be careful. Like Cog said, avoid backstory! Show what you want to say in the journal essay, er, story. Also, avoid complicated characters. I just ditched the uncle in my story because he was complicating things. My story has five characters, and they aren't all main story.

    Backstory can be done well, but it should be put in the main plot of the story, and always make sure there's a reason. Like Cog said though, I prefer to read stories with about one paragraph or so of backstory... So be careful.
     
  4. Skydaughter
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    Skydaughter New Member

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    I may disagree... If you're writing for fun, then writing a backstory may be fulfilling for you. Doesn't mean you have to include it in the actual writing. I love creating backstories that I'm sure will never make it in the book. Plus a backstory may help keep track of some facts that influence the character's behavior (such as why they don't get along with their mother or whatever). If, however, you're writing for work then maybe a backstory would just take up time and/or get in the way... I guess you have to decide what really works for you. If backstories are getting in the way of good writing or good characters, then scrap it. If not, enjoy!
     
  5. InkDream
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    InkDream Senior Member

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    I agree with Cogito for the most part. I keep the backstory out of my story unless there's something relevant. That being said, I do keep notes for my own benefit on my characters and a little of their backstories just so I can keep it straight. Usually this is because something in their history can affect how they react to certain situations or their personality,etc. It helps me get into their head if I'm having trouble writing them down the line.

    For instance I've got jotted down for one character that he was a Japanese-American kid that grew up in the suburbs. His father (who may or may not have had ties to the Yakuza) was emotionally distant and taught him that to be a man you hid your true feelings from the world, lest they discover your weaknesses. That's it. I don't go into detailing his tattoos, his scars, his clothing and personality type, etc. it comes out in the story if it's relevant when it's relevant. Most likely, this stuff wont really come up in the story I'm writing.
     
  6. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't usually TELL a lot of the backstories for my characters. But I KNOW them, all the same.
     
  7. PsychoFreaX
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    PsychoFreaX New Member

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    Actually I'd say the advantage of a good backstory is that it actually "connects" the character and the reader.Reading about their actions externally may help us learn about the character. But it's still difficult to put ourselves in the characters shoes, you know what I mean.

    As I said, a good backstory looks into the motivation for the characters behavior and in how that motivation is formed. So the reader can be able relate to the character and be able to even experience their thoughts and emotions. Thus the connection.

    So with a good backstory it won't only be interesting to watch the characters but also put yourself in their place. Do you still have any tips please? ;)
     
  8. Neoaptt
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    Neoaptt Banned

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    Well i usually just think about the character. I am the character. I just think back to when i first saw my mommy then go from there. I just do what i think i would have done. In the end you have a character with a compelling backstory. It might not be exciting but you connect with the character and you can bring out that character's true feelings in your writing.

    Or, you can just send them through a zombie apocalypse and see how they turn out.
     
  9. Irish87
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    Irish87 Contributing Member

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    I think a backstory is perfectly fine... so long as the reader never knows about it. Well, alright, they can know about it, but be brief unless it plays an extremely important role. Backstories are fantastic for fleshing out a character as to why he is how he is, but to truly know what your character is you need to write about him in situations he has faced. Remember that our experiences in life are not always sitting on our shoulders. Often times its the absence of experience which makes up who we are.

    If nothing else, try writing a quick short story about his youth. Just remember, you don't need to know everything about your character. His favorite pizza topping will not affect the novel, unless it's about pizza toppings. If it is about pizza toppings, however, I would suggest you think up a new story.
     
  10. EileenG
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    EileenG Member

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    Don't do backstory. Think of how many friends you have that you don't know the details of their life story. Your reader really doesn't want to know all that stuff about your characters. If you absolutely must give some backstory, dribble it in, preferably in a blazing row with another character.
     
  11. cboatsman
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    cboatsman Senior Member

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    You as a writer need to know everything about your world and characters. However, that doesn't mean your reader needs to know everything.

    A good example of this is drawing maps. Oh, but you're not writing a fantasy book? That doesn't matter. You still draw a map because you still need to remember what street intersects with 5th Avenue so you, as a writer, know the surroundings and can maintain consistency. Even if your readers never see the map you need to see it and use it as your writing.

    So you can and probably should have a back story of your important characters, but half of the information will probably never see the light of day. This isn't that uncommon. It's up to you to decide what is necessary to progress the story and what is simply bumping your word count.

    Caleb
     
  12. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    Do you mean the character's actual backstory or how they are introduced to the audience? I'm all for a complex backstory, but i think minimalism is always best for an intro. you can often get away w/ longer intros if you've(hopefully) got the audiences attention - as in intros in the later parts of the book, after the reader has a vested interest. otherwise, keep it short.

    Either way, i don't think fleshing out a character via a backstory is bad, but they're basically meaningless until you have a compelling story. it's a waste if you get too serious about an out-of-context character that ends up being incompatable w/ &/or hindering the story. that said, i write random, vaguely contextual character intros/appearances sometimes. it's all good practice

    above all i try to create & empathize w/ characters who, by virtue of their personalities & innate attitudes/behavior, are good for the overall health & advancement of the plot & conflict. then just let them interact & react the way they would normally - as well as letting the story changed them in a way that is natural to them, but that also deepens & cultivates the character, as well as, again, advancing the plot. pretty good, standard method for character creation in general IMO
     
  13. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Backstories are fun to think up. Sometimes more fun than plots, because they can wander aimlessly. But nobody (ok, maybe one or two) wanna read it because the present is infinitely more attractive.
     
  14. Jonesy
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    Jonesy Member

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    Backstories shape characters - what they do, what they say, who they are. Therefore, I think they are very important, however, not all characters will share their backstory. There is no need for the reader to know each characters backstories, but if you know them, you can make your character more real.

    Whenever you are acting a character in a play it is great to learn or create the backstory, that will affect why and how you say/do certain things.
     
  15. PsychoFreaX
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    PsychoFreaX New Member

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    Yeah I know backstories are great and all(Unfortunately not everyone thinks the same). Interesting backstories make interesting characters and I have a few interesting backstories in mind;)

    But as I said. The problem is that interesting backstories are the kind of thing that springs up in my mind from time to time when my mind's wondering and I can't exactly generate these ideas at will. And I need a lot of backstory ideas at the moment.

    So can I ask for tips that will help me a lot more in making interesting backstories?
     
  16. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Cog is right

    Let your main story and MC tell you about their backstory. In the novel that I've been editing/rewriting, you never know the MC has died before until she says something about it halfway through the story. Why? Because that was when she chose to let that part of her past out. Let your MC's show people what their stories are instead of trying to write a 'backstory' into it. That is a mistake that even established, published writers do...aka David Weber...
     

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