Character Depth: How To Create A Good Background Story - By Alice Jones

What makes a good character is a good backstory. A backstory explains why the character acts in a certain way, what drives and motivates him, but not only that. Setting a character as a mere object of sympathy or pity or any other basic emotion makes him an object, not an actual character. Instead of that, a good backstory makes the character relatable, and the audience are given the choice of how exactly to feel about the character, and people always dig being given a choice.

For example, if the character went to college – we can explain how exactly was it funded. Did he pay himself or did he get a scholarship? Did he procure his funding in a fair way? If not, could his means be justified? What is he doing with the skills that he has gained?

What about the character's view? What does he believe in? Such things do not and should not just pop up at random. Usually, a person shares those with those who raised him – his parents. But not necessarily. There can be any other mentor figure, like a local priest or a renown yoga teacher. Alternatively, views and beliefs can at times be shaped by totally incidental events.

Mind that no way of explaining excludes another way. The influences may be different at different points in time. Moreover, he does not need to always follow tips from other people, he does not need to be a blind sheep following a shepherd, that's a bit lame. He may at times resist the influence that he is undergoing. He may do it out of his rebellious nature (which he may or may not possess) or due to any incidental circumstances.

Anyway, this upbringing may be realised in many different ways when the character faces a real-life problem in a story. The circumstance that he is facing will most surely not be the one that he is prepared for. Therefore, he will handle it in a certain way, indirectly dictated by his earlier influences. Because no other explanation is possible.

The details don't need to be thrown at the audience in all their entirety and complexity at the very beginning. They can be added throughout the development of the story, as soon as they become relevant.

However, one needs to be careful in keeping the character consistent. He cannot act in different ways under similar circumstances. If the audience notices any inconsistency, the character becomes less respectable, thus less relatable and duller.

Let us take an example of a character with a well-written backstory. Dr. Harlene Quinsell aka Harley Quinn from the DC universe was originally merely a one-time character, a clown dressed henchwoman for Batman's adversary – the Joker. However, when the audiences have shown interest in her, she was given a backstory and quite a great one at that. That ultimately peaked in her being portrayed by Margo Robbie in a certain film that is a hit right now. Even Marvel fans cannot help but agree that Harley Quinn's charm is simply irresistible. And that is critically due to her well-written backstory.
At first, she's just a jumping girl on the Joker's team. Then it is revealed that she was actually his psychotherapist during his time at the Arkham Asylum. She got charmed by him and turned to his evil ways. But why was she prone to that? Later on, we found out that she came from an abusive family, thus making her gravitate towards the abusive types – the likes of Joker. At Arkham Asylum she allowed herself some extremely unprofessional bonding with a patient – because she was not actually a good psychotherapist. Her backstory tells us that she got her college scholarship for her sportive achievements in acrobatics, and not for her professional potential. This also explains all those extensive jumping tricks that she does in both comics, animated series, and the movie.

Later on (at least in the comics), we see both her relationship with Joker, and herself as a person evolve. She then realises the abusive nature of her relationship with Joker and moves in with Poison Ivy.

What do we learn from that? First, we have an abusive background. We all have points in our early lives when we suffer some amount of abuse, or at least think so. This abuse may force us into wrong choices regarding both our careers and our personal lives. That's what we see, in an exaggerated manner, in the well-written development of Harley Quinn's backstory. We can all relate to her to some extent, and we are the ones setting the scope of the relatedness.

Writing out such a backstory for a character may seem simple and obvious. However, having such a well-written backstory for a character takes a huge amount of time and effort. Given enough talent and zeal, you can also write such a canonical backstory!


If you've enjoyed this post check out: The Simple Rules Of Good Writing

Written by Alice Jones
 Alice Jones is a tutor and freelance writer from Essays Academic, who is interested in writing, education, blogging and sharing her ideas. Follow Alice on TwitterGoogle+, or find her in other social media, pop in there and say “Hi” to her!

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