Writing Character Background
|I used to HAVE this one!|
Too easy. I want to jump right in and start recording the adventures and character revelations in my latest novel.
But a good novel must have a good foundation. So what I have been up to lately is developing characters. The motives of characters don't come out of the thin blue. They - like yours - come from their background, what their culture values, even their secrets. How have they been hurt? How have they best gotten by in their world? What are they like when no one is looking, and how is it different from when they are before an audience?
The motives of characters drive plot. I think characters should come first, and the plot should flow organically from them. Otherwise, you get a story where stock characters are plugged in so it rolls along and makes a certain sense but it rings false and the characters are not interesting.
Every character is getting a mini-biography. Physical appearance; background; purpose in story (imagine that!); habits and mannerisms... I want to give the reader a collection of vivid characters that are different from one another, with even those in minor roles having something to make the reader relate to and remember them.
Sadly, some are already having their fates recorded. And yet nothing is certain until the final edit!
It is so easy to find yourself writing a clichéd character that it takes some effort to avoid it.
"Trope" is not a dirty word to me. A novel without a single trope would be classified as "experimental," I think. There are only so many character roles and plot devices, after all, and a cast that consisted solely of completely original characters would be a freak show, not a novel.
Nonetheless, you don't want the reader to roll his eyes in every chapter because he has seen this exact thing before. It is fun to fake a trope so the reader expects one thing, but enjoys an unexpected twist on the familiar. I imagine that a surprised reader is not a bored reader. But you have to set up your surprises so that when the reader thinks back, the surprise seems, if not inevitable, at least not all that surprising after all.
The worst thing is a surprise for the sake of surprise or a twist for the sake of a twist. Those feel bolted on, rather than growing naturally from (and here we get back to the beginning) the motivations of the characters, or at least previously-established circumstances.
Which is why I am spending so much time getting to know my new characters for the next book of the Rubricatae Chronicles. At this stage of their development, a couple are looking a little "tropey." This is one of those problems that is easy to solve but difficult to solve well.
If there is anything easier than writing a pure trope it is trying to escape a trope by providing some arbitrary distinction. "The spunky tomboy teen girl was not only scrappy, but fluent in spoken Latin." Or was a talented ballerina. Maybe either one. Maybe both. Probably neither. Whatever it is, it has to flow from her background and make her feel more, not less, like a real person.