Character Background

Many authors advocate for working with their characters before they begin to plot their story. Revealing information about the characters is helpful with main plot and subplot. A standard in the writing world is a heuristic that asks you all sorts of questions about the character. They are as numerous as books on writing. A quick Internet search reveals a character profile, as well as a good column from The Lazy Scholar.

In the article, LS suggests that not only are character profiles a good way to get started, and not only are they are a great resource when you’re slogging through the middle, but that you can also employ them at the rewrite stage. It’s an excellent continuity check, as well as a measure of consistency of actions.

I don’t use them too much. I could see the need in a more complicated story. What I often do is write about my characters when an issue about their past is something I want to know. This piece won’t usually make it into the story, but, like the zero draft, this is my way of figuring out who they are, to place them in situations and see what happens, or have them tell me stories about where they’ve been and what’s important to them. These pieces often don’t have plot, but they are very helpful to me because they reveal motivations, emotions, and priorities.

How do you work with your characters? How do you revise them when needed? Do you ever decide to cut them? How do you do that?


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

3 thoughts on “Character Background”

  1. My approach to characterization is very different from the way I handle most things in fiction. It’s completely intuitive. I either know the characters — in which case I can visualize them, hear their voices, and can say exactly how they would respond to a particular situation — or I don’t. There is no preparation, no logic involved unless the characters are directly based on people I know.

    One of the interesting things about this approach is that the characters have had full lives I do not know about, and from time to time things pop up relating to their backgrounds that take me by surprise.

  2. One of my favorite books is Douglas Coupland’s jPod, not a book loved by his bigger fans. The characters all had interesting quirks, and they would give each other little challenges like “Write a love letter to Ronald McDonald,” and try to one-up each other for weirdness.

    To do this, Coupland really had to have a read on the characters.

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