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Character Backstory Woes

I made a terrible discovery yesterday. The minor character in my novel who dies in the first chapter (well supposed to anyway…suddenly undecided) has a better backstory than my protagonist. This minor character has a rich beautiful backstory that won’t be part of the novel while my protagonist has nothing interesting at all. I figured it was time for a little Extreme Makeover Novel Edition *cue music

extreme_makeover_home_novel_edition

Meet the Character

Protagonist is a fluffy poodle of wasted potential badly planned and written even worse. He’s been living as an incomplete in the First Drafts Section for over three years with no hope of ever coming to the fore. However, in a dramatic turn of events, he’s found a new home in Second Drafts which is being renewed and refurbished. However, will that be enough?

Back to Basics

We’ll be crafting a new identity for this quagmire oozing latent aptitude to be the a great Protagonist. First we must consider their traits:

letsdoamakeover

  • Who are they: Name. Last name. Nickname. Age. Race. Language. Height. Weight. Imagine them fully fleshed out as a walking, talking real person. If Protagonist is not alive to you, they won’t be alive to readers.
  • What are they: Human? Orc? Pizza-slice animated to life and seeking the purpose of life? Are they working or students or mage or detective? Are they the Chosen One or the stable boy or a passing wind offering fruits of wisdom to strangers? What Protagonist is, defines social life, goals, aspirations, challenges, advantages. Paint the details that specify Protagonist.
  • Past|Present|Future: Who was Protagonist before the start of the novel? Who are they during the course of it? Who will they be at the end of it? Has the “Who” and “What” changed during these transitions? For good or bad? In short, does the wise wandering old mentor turn out to be a random man who found fortune cookies in the dumpster behind the Chinese restaurant. How does that change your character?
  • Choices: Choices made by the protagonist, antagonist, and other characters affect the protagonist in some way. These also after the story being told. Don’t forget that story and character are deeply intertwined like the flavouring of your 2 Minute Noodles and the bottom of your pot/plate/microwave.

After careful application of these concepts, Protagonist should come out shiny and new, with purpose and depth sure to stun readers into swooning stupors of joy.

Backstory Vs Back Story

backstory

One is the history of the character and the other is a story about the character’s back (or a command to tell the story to back-off). Same thing. Whatever. Either way, a character is defined by their history and what’s behind them (see what I did there?), much like we are. Look back (ha more puns) into your own past at a choice or decision you or someone else made that could have changed who you are today.

You can start with a character and who you want them to be, and fit a matching backstory as you see fit. Alternatively you can define the world or history around them and let that define the character.

Protagonist is now ready to delve into the story. You know who they are, what they are and where they come from. You know how they walk and talk, and importantly where they are going. It’s time to match character to story.

Novel Reveal

Following this intense procedure of revamping the character and their backstory, the story may or may not change. What does change, is the revelation about your character that will drive your story forward.

revelation

Junk Yard Angel, which is the novel I am currently working on, has seen some dramatic changes in its story. While keeping the original idea intact, the character improvement has also restructured the sequence of events. This means new characters, new settings, new technology and more importantly, a deeper, richer story to tell. It also added more links to my mind map which have spawned a new idea for the novel: side stories.

Side Stories will be the untold arcs that won’t appear in the novel but will add a profound depth to the world where Junk Yard Angel takes place. Worldbuilding added to much of these untold stories. It’s a really exciting time ahead and I look forward to completing my novel.


Have you realized any profound changes to your novel WIP and had to re-work the characters/world/story? How did it work out for you?

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About Nthato Morakabi

Nthato Morakabi is a South African born published author working as a Junior Technical Writer for Everlytic and a freelance writer for Gamecca Magazine. He has published his short stories both internationally, and locally, hoping to publish a novel in the near future. He is an avid read, inspired blogger, and an aspiring digital artist.

9 responses »

  1. Junk yard angel is the coolest novel title ever!!!!!!!

    Reply
  2. Characters are fickle sometimes. The one you want doesn’t always cooperate, but the minor characters are always eager to step forward. That’s what happened to my novel. Except, they were both protagonists, one just wanted to run the show more than the other.

    Reply
  3. I have been constantly changing things about my protagonist since 10 for my WIP. I’ve discarded many backstories because they were clichéd, or just didn’t fit. It took me a lot of trial and error and me growing up helped me shape a better character for sure. 🙂

    Reply
  4. This is wonderful advice! I realized that a good back story is important for the main character. (I’m still in the writing everything in my head down stage) I may just explore your blog more to find more wonderful advice. Thank you! 🙂

    ~ Sabrina @ Omg Books and More Books

    Reply

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