History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

Character Backgrounds

One of the projects that I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks is a character background for a Changeling game that I’ll be playing in, beginning later this month. I’ve been writing character backgrounds for most of the games I’ve been in for more than 10 years now. Even if they’re not required for the game, I still like to write them, as it helps me roleplay my character better.

As I’ve progressed as a writer, so too have my character backgrounds. They are far more focused than they were previously, and they just generally exhibit more knowledge of the writer’s craft than the ones I wrote even 5 years ago.

I think that character backgrounds could be a useful tool for writers in general, even if you’re not a roleplayer. Although a character background isn’t the sort of thing you’re going to publish, it could make for a good character development method.

I write a lot of my character backgrounds in first person, which is a good tool for working out a character’s voice. The one I wrote most recently is for a teenager who has led a sheltered life, and most of what she knows of the world is from reading classical literature. So her word choices are far more advanced than your average high schooler. Thinking about things like that can help you differentiate two similar characters, or find similarities between very disparate characters.

I also sometimes find that things work their way into a character background that I wasn’t quite expecting, but that end up fitting with the character and the story. Again, in this most recent background, I introduced a cat (who had a tendency to appear and disappear) that ended up being my character’s mentor. A combination of that and her name (Alysia) gave me a nice Alice in Wonderland motif to work with to tie the background together. While you may not want to borrow from other authors in your own fiction for publication, you may also stumble across little quirks of your character as you put together a character background. And quirks make a character all the more human to your readers.

So while it may have slowed me down in getting more publishable fiction done, I really enjoyed writing the character background for my Changeling character. And stretching my brain in a different direction is likely to help me get a fresh perspective on the other projects that I need to tackle!


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