Character Development Exercise – Creating the Back Story


Time: 30-60 minutes


Action Step #1 – Each character has a story to tell. That story is created by you behind the scenes. In your stories, characters don’t begin at the beginning of life like Venus springing full grown from the head of Zeus. So, it is up to you to create who they were in the years before. For most short stories, this requires only a few strokes. For a novel, an entire character’s life is mapped out to give you-the writer-a good idea of who they are.


Take a story you are currently working in or one you have finished. What do you know about the characters’ lives? Create a chart that includes the names of all characters and what you know about them. Are their parents deceased? Are they divorced? Did the character lose a child? Are they stuck in a loveless marriage?


Action Step #2 – Well-developed characters are like friends. They are also true to type. For example, a character that is out for revenge will not suddenly soften and let his prey go, their crimes unpunished. It is nice to have a story wrap up neatly but life doesn’t work that way and your reader won’t expect your story to either.


To see how three-dimensional your characters are, take a memorable character of yours and set him or her down in a scene from another story you have written. How will they act? If someone is hurt, will they run over and help them? Rewrite your scene with this new character addition.


Action Step #3 – Crossing gender lines can be tricky. But readers have been surprised when they read a book and then discover that the author is of the opposite gender or race. The writing was so convincing and believable that they wonder how the author did it. This is the case with Alexander McCall Smith and his endearing series “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”


Try writing a short story where your main character is of the opposite gender. Ask someone of that gender to read it to see if it is believable to them.