Improve Your Writing: Blast into the Past
How to Round out Flat Characters with Backstories
To add some curves to stock or flat characters, try to give them some memories. Having a backstory can help shape the future, or it can frame the motivations behind characters’ actions. If you find yourself writing about a character that you’d like to add some depth to, this is a great way to fill in those details.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What was his/her most embarrassing moment at school?
- What is his/her dream job?
- Was he/she the only child or born into a family full of siblings?
- How does he/she feel about the colour magenta? Why?
What’s the point? This activity will stimulate your creative juices to conjure up a full-fledged backstory. It could help you create side characters that could re-enter this character’s life. It could provide a springboard for other insights to your character’s life. Of course, if the questions above are not as useful for your character, feel free to come up with your own!
Warning: This exercise could make you want to scrap your original main character and make this new side character the hero!
Another question you could ask is: What would your character do to celebrate a certain holiday?
For example, we asked ourselves what some famous literary characters would do if they celebrated Halloween today:
Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)
Elizabeth gets an invitation to the “Most Popular Girls in School” party. Lydia, her social climbing little sister, is insanely jealous, having not received an invitation herself. Lizzie has no intention to attend what she imagines to be an incredibly boring night of girls in spectacularly elaborate costumes and parents cajoling kids into playing pre-planned games. Lizzie ends up giving the invitation to Lydia, who arrives at the party in an intricate masquerade mask and pretends to be Lizzie in order to gain entrance. Lizzie invites some friends and her boyfriend Darcy over to watch her favorite horror film, The Blair Witch Project. They eat too many Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and talk about the demise of the horror film industry.
Macbeth spends the night trying to impress a group of kids whose votes he needs in order to be voted student body president. He asks one member of the crew what they are up to that night and is told to show up to the principal’s house at the Peak at midnight, sharp. He shows up only to find that the group plans to egg the principal’s house. Macbeth feels awful about it and really does not want to participate, but he knows that he desperately needs their votes. He half-heartedly picks up an egg and throws it at the principal’s house. Shocking even himself, he is overcome with excitement at his malicious behavior and starts pelting the house with eggs. The other kids are pleasantly surprised at his joining in. They suddenly hear one of the neighbors shouting, “Hey! What are you kids doing out there?!” and run off to resume with their night of mischievous activities. Macbeth goes to bed that night feeling very guilty about his bad behavior but reassured that he gained some new votes.
Effie (The Hunger Games)
Effie has the most incredible costume ever seen because she started working on it in June. That was when she was deliberating whether she should dress as Lady Gaga, Cleopatra, or My Little Pony. She eventually scrapped all of these ideas and chose to go as a fanciful unicorn. Her costume costs $5000 and is entirely custom made, including a solid gold unicorn horn. She throws it out the next day. Effie visits all the major picturesque spots in town to properly show off her costume, snapping pictures with her selfie stick the entire time while eating Mentos.