Writing Fantasy || Character Backstory

If you’ve been writing your story along with me, you probably have a pretty good idea of who your hero protagonist, their main sidekick, and the evil antagonist and his henchmen are and what they’re doing when your story starts, but how did they become who they are? Why is your protagonist a charming young female who loves to wander the forests of a mystical land on horseback? Why is her companion an outcast from a faraway land? What led your antagonist to despise all Elves?

What’s the story behind your story?

How do you find out the backstory of your story? As you know, I’m learning this whole process as I go along – like most of you too, I expect, as I write my Dwarf story. Thank you for joining me on this journey.

In my research, I discovered that the best information to start with is the character’s birth. (Duh.)

Sleeping Baby in feathers nest
Sleeping Baby by Tawny Nina on pixabay

I also found as I wrote my first NaNoWriMo novel draft in 2015, it really does help to plot all this before you start writing your novel. I wasted many hours going back to a previous chapter to correct something I didn’t realize about my character until halfway through. Did I mention I switched my focus halfway through the story? Yep, the first half was a superhero and the second half was – well, I’m not exactly sure but it wasn’t a superhero. Something I learned from a fellow NaNo writer was to write all the main characters on sticky notes or in a journal with their own page, then add anything you discover about them as you write so you don’t lose track of information. Scrivener is another, more technical, way to organize your work. (The link goes to their page for a discount).

Let’s start with the protagonist

Where they were born and were there any unusual circumstances surrounding their birth?

  • Was it an easy birth?
  • Was the father present?
  • Were they delivered by a doctor or a travelling healer?
  • Maybe in their realm, they were delivered by supernatural means.
  • How many siblings did they have?

Write as much as you know about the birth of your protagonist.

Then go on to childhood.

  • Did they go to school?
  • Who was their best friend?
  • What was their favourite subject?
  • Did they excel at anything?
  • Did their experiences as a child influence their career choice?
  • Were they homeschooled or sent away at a young age to apprentice with someone?
  • Were they born with all the knowledge they would need in life?
  • How did that happen?

Your protagonist as an adult.

  • What drove them to be in the situation they’re in now?
  • Did they suffer prejudice, health issues or a failed relationship?
  • Write as many life events as you can think of and delete each one as you write.
  • Be open to adding new things you discover about your protagonist as your story unfolds.
  • Let the story evolve and delete any notes that no longer apply.

Then do the same for your major antagonist.

  • Ask why they’re angry, mean, and vicious.
  • People don’t start out that way as a newborn baby so what happened in their past to steer them down that path?
  • Is the antagonist driven by fear, guilt or jealousy?
  • Why do they have metal teeth or wear a mask?

Do the same for a few minor characters. Write only what’s important for your reader to know, not their entire life story.

Take a look at The Watcher by Sara Davison as a great example of backstory for her protagonist,  Kathryn Ellison.  Check out The Watcher on Amazon.

and Great Expectations as a wonderfully written backstory for the antagonist, the embittered Miss Havisham. Check out Great Expectations on Amazon

 

And check out my blog interview with the protagonist, Colin, from the sc-fi novel Singularity.

Check out Singularity on Amazon

 

Til next time, know you are loved by the One who made you in His image.

Lynne

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