People don’t live in a vacuum and neither should your characters. Unless you kill them off, they will ‘live’ on after the story has ended. Stories don’t usually start with the birth of a character either. Every character has a back story. It might never appear in the story itself, but it shaped the character – made it was it is. It’s the same thing that happens with people. You are the sum of your experiences, your characters should have experienced that make them what they are. You don’t have to go into endless details, all you need to do is hit the highlights, and pick a few things that will give your characters reasons for being what they are.
If ever you are stuck on a writing project and can’t think of a thing to write about. think about your characters. What made them the way that they are? Try to write a paragraph describing the character’s back story. Why is the hero afraid of spiders? The reader doesn’t have to know, but you, as the author, should know that. it’s not enough to have a character afraid of something, you have to know why – even if the reader doesn’t. not all of your character’s back story will find its way into the actual story, but it will be there ready to play if you find that you need it.
You don’t need more than a paragraph. Some people fill out a form – I do that, but I also write the back story in paragraph form on occasion. It helps me to learn who the character is. I learn what they want, what they have, who they care about. it can help a lot.
In job hunting, they advise you to have an ‘elevator speech’ – a short biography of yourself that you could tell to someone in an elevator. Give each character an elevator speech. You see that in some books where the cast of characters are listed at the beginning of a book. They go like this – George Manners – a man whose past haunts him. Mary Manners – George’s wife who has secrets of her own. These are tantalizing. Why does George’s past haunt him? What are Mary’s secrets? The reader might not have to know, but you do. of course if you list them like that, you should be prepared to let the reader know the answers. Otherwise you end up with a disappointed reader.
So, take some time to get to know your characters. If they are interesting people to you, they will be interesting people to your reader. If you don’t find them interesting, your readers won’t either. give them some back story. Don’t just plop them into a story because the story needs a character like that. make them real. Give them a life before the story. Give them a back story.