World Building Lesson 5 – Making History

Hello Writers!

Happy Sunday to you!

WhysWhen a writer sits down to write, he might begin by making up a character. This character will have a name, a job, a physical description, probably a hobby or two, and some friends. This is a two dimensional, superficial character. There is not a lot of depth.

To truly connect with a character, the reader needs to understand the whys of who they are. Does your character live where they live because they grew up there? Because they took a job there? Do they love the town? Hate it? If they hate it, why do they stay?

If your characters are not human, what do they look like, what drives them, what do they most desire? Why are their eyes big? Is their planet dark? Why? Answer all the why questions your readers might as as they read your work. Randomly joined actions never come across as they would if they were well thought out; because they aren’t.

A character’s history builds who they are. readers connect with their past tragedies or current joys. There is no real connection built with blond hair and green eyes. It’s the character’s whys that create a bond between your story and your reader. It adds the depth needed to make your character three dimensional, real.

To be clear, a character’s history is not always revealed in a story. Sometimes pieces are leaked out as they become important to the story or to set the story up for something that happens later on. Knowing your character’s history makes you better able to represent them in the story.

For example, say your characters are heading to a basement because a tornado is coming. One of your characters, Stacey, is reluctant to enter the basement and has to be drug inside to avoid harm. She continues to become more and more agitated the longer she is in the basement.

Your reader, should they notice Stacey’s behavior, will be drawn in and begin to wonder why she is acting the way she is. As the writer, you know that her babysitter used to lock her in the basement for hours at a time when she was little. you may never reveal this information in the story, but you KNOW it. You know Stacey’s terror of being in the basement is very real and so you are able to write the scene in a very believable and relevant way.

Whatever it is your characters are afraid of, you know why. Knowing the WHYs will allow you to tap into your characters and write them with an authenticity you would not otherwise have. To give your characters enough depth to be three dimensional, you must answer their whys for yourself.

I love writing short back stories for my characters. Even if I never use them. It allows me to feel like I know them really well. More importantly, knowing the character so well helps me write them in a way that is true and authentic to who they are as an individual.

Do you write back stories for your characters? What’s your method for creating a history for your characters and places? Let me know in the comments below!

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The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

~ Eileen


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