Greeting all, and welcome to the first part in a real understanding in what a character history really is. Before we get started on actually creating some histories, I wanted to give you some insight as to why it is an important aspect to your writing process. I hope after you read this article and know what it is all about, you will understand just how important and helpful a thorough character history will be when you begin to write.
What is History?
Does the concept of history lead you to think of a monotone middle aged teacher droning on about dates and names which you must memorize in order to pass a class? If it does, that is a shame. History is at heart, the story of OUR world. Additionally, if you find history without purpose and lacking in practical application, it is possible you have a common misconception of its true intent.
Take a moment and think about the last time you had a get together with some friends. Maybe you were at a party or a barbeque, sharing drinks and laughs. Good food and good friends always bring about good laughs. But what were you laughing about? I am willing to bet at least some of those laughs came from a story someone was telling about their past. Maybe it was the time Henry mistook a rake as an alligator on the golf course, or the time Lisa got so drunk her husband had to throw her over his shoulder and carry her to the car. These are the stories that make up our history and give people a glimpse of where we have been.
History, we all have one. They are what make us who we are today. Being raised by a single mother and witnessing men in her life that leave the moment things got tough causes Patty to grow up not trusting men. Seeing his family struggle to simply put food on the table, Junior follows in the footsteps of many of his classmates and begins selling drugs on the corner and eventually climbs the ranks and ends up ma major player in the drug trade. Each of these brief histories creates a rich base for any number of characters. The beauty is that as writers, we can make up anything.
Why is History Important Anyway?
When I was developing my first novel Ashes Will Fall, I spent endless hours on my character’s histories. I wanted to create characters with a rich history that my readers could not only relate to, but be able to feel for. Rudy Valentino, an army ranger with a drinking problem, never able to forget the woman he loves but no longer has. Heather Gil, a news reporter who buries herself in her work and indulges in cheesy romance novels to escape the memory of the career she has and the life she gave up with the only man she would ever love. Nick Ruben, a man who lost everything when his family fell victim to the ruthless drug lord Juan Chavez. For each of these characters and more, I have endless pages of histories for. In fact, it was from these backgrounds I was able to write my first short story series Rudy’s Rangers.
When creating a character’s history, you are creating a roadmap to where they are when the story begins. It is all about the journey. As the writer, you must understand their motivation. Understanding the motivations for them to act in a specific manner will greatly help you tell their story. Let’s take an example of a flawed character that plays the role of an anti-hero. Sure, he may steal, cheat and lie but when faced with a woman in the dead of the night with a battered face and torn clothing pleading for help, he stops at nothing to protect her. Why would he act in that manner? This is where a character’s history comes into play.
Getting to Know Your Characters
The best way to tell a story is to know who you are writing about. By intimately knowing every facet of their lives, you can better tell their story. But, how do you get there? The answer is simple, you create their history. You actually create the memories of their childhood; first love and heartbreak, their first car accident, the loss of a loved one, and even the pack of baseball cards they stole when they were twelve. You not only create who they are, but you have an intimate insight into every last dark secret of their lives.
Now, here’s the real secret. The entire purpose of knowing everything about your characters, you will know exactly how they will react in given situations. Even if sometimes they do something you are not expecting, and characters tend to do that, there is a reason for it. So, when you are establishing your plot and coming up with conflicts, you know how they will react. In other words, simply by knowing your characters, it will help you actually tell their story.
Now that we have taken the time to understand exactly what a history is and how helpful it can be, we can get started in creating some. Next week, that is exactly what we are going to do. So that you never miss a new post, make sure that you subscribe to the RSS feed or even follow me on Facebook. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments, as I am always here to help, though it is easiest to contact me on Facebook, as I am on there nearly twenty-four hours a day. Seriously, I would love to hear from you about your thoughts on this and my past series, so don’t hesitate. Until next week, keep your pens, pencils and keyboard going and write your hearts out.