More specifically for ‘Character History’. When either of us get hit with a new character, we end up working out a basic, snapshot history for them. We tend to just do a snapshot to begin with and then let them build their own from there, which I know sounds strange, but it seems to work for us.
The most effective way we’ve found to do this, is to throw the characters into a scenario and have them interact with each other – most of the time in script format, rather than prose. Using this method, even established characters we have had in our heads for a few years surprise us every-now-and-then with a new layer to their history that they hadn’t ‘told’ us about before.
Another method we have used before are questionnaires. You know those daft questionnaires (or memes, as they are known sometimes) that your friends send you online to fill in? With questions such as ‘What is your favourite food?’ or ‘Tea or Coffee?’ or ‘Have you ever ran away from home?’. These are great ways to get to know your characters better. You just convince your character to come to the forefront of your brain and take the questionnaire as if you were them. It is truly interesting (and sometimes comical) the answers you get from them.
Since we’ve been writing together, using these methods, we end up with characters with huge histories. With a few – particularly the leads for ‘Emissaries’ – someone could pick a year of their life at random and we would be able to tell you what happened to that character.
Building character histories (and personalities) are essential, I think, for breathing life into and crafting fully rounded characters. If you can think of them as ‘real’ people then it’s easier to write how they would react to whatever situation you throw at them. Don’t think you have to put all that background information into your book though… the majority of it will never be read by anyone but, you, the author… but, the point is, you will know that character and the more real you can make them, the more likely your readers will feel for them and (hopefully) want to know what happens to them.
We have put up two filled in character questionnaires here, as examples. Why not try it out with your own and see if this method works for you as well?
*Picture – ‘Who Do You Think You Are‘ © BBC