After Part 1 and Part 2, we’re at the home stretch for my huge, all-encompassing, yes-I-try-to-fill-this-out-for-every-character list! But before we tackle backstory, there’s one other attribute I want to add to our previous sections…
ETHNICITY: A lot of writers focus on what life is like in white culture. I’m guilty of this limited viewpoint too. You don’t always have to write outside of white culture, but you should still have this item available. Otherwise, you’re just going to write someone with the same culture as yourself. You shouldn’t always be doing this. Research the culture a bit (I recommend everyculture.com), read the blog of someone in that culture, and, most importantly, don’t stress too much over it. http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com is a good resource for this, although you don’t have to adhere to everything they suggest.
Now, onto backstory…
BIRTHPLACE: Location matters for character. I usually don’t have to do much research for this one… I think of a character, and then match his traits with what I associate with a city. Your easygoing character could naturally come from a small town in California, I think.
RELATIONSHIP WITH PARENTS: Freud put a big emphasis on this aspect of life for a reason.
RELATIONSHIP WITH SIBLINGS: Like above, this is a question that has a big impact on how your character becomes who she is. I tend to write these character lists by starting with a few quirks or traits that play well off of one another, then back-engineering the moments in the past that made these characters like that. I finish off by filling out details as I go. Did your character’s adventurous streak come from an overprotective brother? Or maybe a fun-loving sister?
HOW LONG MARRIED/WHEN MET: How long has your character been married for? Or, to put it another way, what was the moment where they met their true love like? Feel free to write N/A for this question.
PARENTS’ OCCUPATIONS: … I think I’m using the right possessive. Anyway, this is a more concrete way of establishing your character’s social class.
EARLY LIFE: I spend at least six lines of loose-leaf on this one. What were the early factors that influenced the person your character becomes? This is the part of the list that becomes most like storytelling.
COLLEGE/BEYOND: Another story worth six lines. Your character does not have to go to college. At some point, though, your character becomes independent and takes their own destiny in their hands. For most people, that’s around college age.
JOB: Where do they work? What as? Like the last question, disregard if your character is too young.
RELATIONSHIP TO BOSS/CO-WORKERS: How do they get along with people in a professional setting?
HOBBIES: What does your character do in his/her spare time?
LIVING SITUATION: Describe not just where they live, but how they affected their surroundings. Is the room messy because of them? Is she a fixer-upper? Did he make the room smelly? Use your imagination here.
LIFE-CHANGING EVENT: Your character wasn’t always your character. Something happened in their life that forever changed their personality. Often, this moment in time is where their inner conflict comes from. Can be as great as a kidnapping, or as small as a lost teddy bear. In either the “Early Life” or “College/Beyond” section, write “LCE” so you know when this moment happened. Go into lots of detail in this section: this is probably the most important bit of backstory in your character’s life.
At this point of character creation, these lists take up three pages of loose-leaf. But I’ve usually filled out beforehand a fourth sheet— research. If my character is obsessed with octopi, for example, you’ll be damned sure this side of loose-leaf will be all about octopi. If you’re talking about a culture other than your own, or another time period in history, this is where you’d put your notes.
I hope this list helps you with your own character creation. I will soon put up a post that combines all three parts and includes not only a template, but also an example from my most recent character in an upcoming story.