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By Johannes Helmold

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character background

Previously, I dedicated several blog posts to creating credible characters. In them, I described the main principles an amateur writer should consider when creating a character. However, today I’d like to focus rather on practical aspects, like what a writer should pay most attention to.

I wrote these guidelines being particularly focused on psychological theories about the influence of an individual’s surroundings, childhood experiences, and challenges one has to deal with as an adult. In my novels, I usually try to let my readers learn these backgrounds, more or less, because origins is what helps to understand motives and the logic of actions the protagonists perform.

This is what I usually pay the most attention to:

Bio and background. You don’t necessarily have to invent the entire story of a character’s childhood or adolescence; nevertheless, you must know (and let your readers know) about events in a character’s past that he or she remembers prominently, and that can somehow be connected to what he or she currently does or thinks. Death of parents, physical or sexual abuse, first love, accidents, wonderful events, and other similar fragments are key.

Friends and enemies. Do you remember that proverb? “Tell me who is your friend, and I will say who you are.” Who is your character’s best friend? Acquaintances? Enemies? Rivals? If these people are not among the main characters, it’s enough to mention some of their most outstanding traits. If they are secondary (or main characters), you should work on their personalities a bit more thoroughly.

Occupations and/or profession. This is a whole field to cross, so to say, but even if you don’t want to pay too much attention to this aspect, mentioning it will still help your readers make up their mind about your character.

The core belief of your character, his or her motto. This can be expressed even in a few words, like “justice,” “black and white,” “the world is cruel,” “life is great,” “equality,” and so on.

A brief synopsis for a secondary character, written by the guidelines above, could look like this:

Jack worked as a policemen. When he was a child, he witnessed his own father’s cruel murder; before escaping the crime scene, the murderer smiled at Jack with a scary smile that Jack saw in his nightmares throughout his entire life. Perhaps, this is why he decided to become a policemen—he didn’t know the reason quite well himself. After work, he would go to the nearest pub to drink a couple of beers and chat with Moses—an old, lonely black bartender, who had a sad smile and wise eyes. After decades of working as a policeman, his naive and somewhat childish faith in justice faded, and now he counted the years left until retirement. All that was left was regret.

You can either say all this directly, right in the text, or scatter this information in the form of hints across several chapters—it’s up to you.

Well, I hope this was useful. Stay updated!

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