Monday, February 4, 2013

Back Story - It's Fun but is it Necessary?

Guest post by Marcia Lee Laycock

What is back story? It is all the details you need to know about your character – her family history, her work history, her likes and dislikes - most of which probably won’t be included in the work itself.

There are a myriad of details you can play with. Details like place and date of birth - was there anything unusual about it? Perhaps she lived part of her life in an exotic place. Consider her ethnic background - is it a significant factor in her life? What about her childhood location - did she live in one community for a long time or did her family move around? What kind of school did she attend? Did she like school? Did she have a favorite teacher/subject?

Decide on the number of siblings your character has – where is the character in the birth order? Think about how that affects her and those around her. Did she get along well with her siblings? Perhaps you will choose to make her an only child. Consider how that affects her outlook on life, her decisions and her relationships. How did her parents earn a living? Were they wealthy, middle class, living in poverty? What kind of motivations will this stir in your character?

What is the pivotal event in her life to this point? How does it affect how she sees herself and those around her? Will it move the character in a good direction or a bad one? Think of your own life. What are some of the details/events that have had an impact on you in some way? Those are the kinds of things you want to know about your characters, especially your main characters.

Once you have decided on all these details you must decide how they will affect the character. For instance, if she moved every year she might have trouble forming solid friendships. If she went to a private school she might be intolerant of underachievers. If she was bullied by an older sibling she might be very compassionate or have a tendency to bully people herself. If she lived in poverty as a child she might be driven to succeed or be plagued with the fear of failing.

Details in a character's past can give you interesting quirks or habits to work with. For instance, in my first novel, One Smooth Stone, the main character, Alex was beaten by his foster-father. He has a scar behind his left ear that he rubs when he's thinking hard about something or remembering something from his past. This becomes a "tell" for Kenni, who is trying to understand him.

Playing with back story can be engrossing and a lot of fun but it has a serious purpose - to bring you, the author, to a place where you know your character inside and out. When you reach that point your characters will be more realistic, their dialogue true to life, their actions and reactions believable and their motivations clear to the reader.

Marcia’s writing has won awards in Canada and the U.S.  Her devotionals are distributed to thousands and her novel, One Smooth Stone, won the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award from Castle Quay Books and The Word Guild. The sequel, A Tumbled Stone was just released and has garnered excellent reviews. Her devotional ebook for writers of faith is available here: 

Marcia is also a sought-after speaker for women’s events. Visit her at

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