Every character needs a full and complete backstory – Katie Ginger

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By Katie Ginger

It may sound a bit silly, and like a whole lot of work, but every character, no matter how big or small their role, really does need a proper backstory. Trust me! I found out the hard way!♥

I remember very clearly when I first started writing again after a long break, I thought I’d just tap away at my keyboard and the vaguely formed characters in my head would do things, then at the end of the process I’d have a first draft of a novel. Simples! It would need edits, but then, what book doesn’t? Little did I know the main critique I’d get was that my characters were too caricature and two dimensional.

Anyone who’s received critiques of any kind will know they’re sometimes hard to accept. and I’ll be honest, guys, it hurt. A lot. And it wasn’t just one person saying it, it was lots of people, so I knew something was definitely wrong. As I re-read my first draft I realised that they were right. The characters were either flat and boring, or over the top and unrealistic. And worst of all, the story was getting lost because my characters emotional arcs were all over the place! One minute they were angry, the next happy – it didn’t make any sense.

So I went back to the drawing board.

I’ve always been a plotter and like to map out my stories in great detail (there are spreadsheets, people! Spreadsheets!) but I never extended that plotting to my characters’ emotions. Before I went through my first draft again, I decided to really think about my characters and not just in terms of the events that happened in the story, but real in-depth emotional stuff.

You see, when you stop and think about it, every little thing that’s happened to us shapes who are we, so it would be the same for our characters, wouldn’t it? Exploring everything about them from where they went to school, their hobbies, their fears, means that when we write, they have so much more emotional depth. And that depth will come across in how we describe their reactions, their body language, their speech, and ultimately what’s in their heads. We get to know them better.

When I came to write The Little Theatre on the Seafront I thought long and hard about Sid and Lottie. How would Lottie’s parents leaving and the death of her nan affect her? How has Sid dealt with losing his parents? Once I knew everything about them this fed into how they reacted to all the nasty things I was going to throw at them!

Then my lovely editor sent my first lot of edits back and said that Selena was feeling a bit panto-ish. I realised, with a horrible, squirmy feeling in my stomach, that I’d not applied the same technique to her as I had Sid and Lottie. It was a real face-palm moment. Why hadn’t I done that? Just because she wasn’t my MC didn’t mean she shouldn’t have the same treatment. What was her story? What had happened to her to make her the person she is? By exploring this, I was able to really flesh out her character and make her emotions and reactions believable. By the end of edits, she was ready to go but with a deadline looming, it was really stressful.

So now I’ve learned to do a full character profile for all my characters, no matter how big or small their role, and I think it’s made me a better writer. I’ve still got a lot to learn and to be honest, I don’t think you ever stop learning, but character profiles are now a firm part of my writing process. To every writer out there I would say, please don’t forget that though this works for me, everyone is different. You do you, and find out how you prefer to work. There’s no right or wrong here and we’re all learning as we go! Embrace those mistakes because it’s all part of the learning curve and ultimately will help to make you a better writer.

Katie Ginger lives in the South East of England, by the sea, and apart from holidays to very hot places where you can sit by a pool and drink cocktails as big as your head, she wouldn’t really want to be anywhere else. The Little Theatre on the Seafront is Katie’s debut novel but she is also the author of some cosy mystery short stories. She loves making her characters either fall in love, or killing them off – it depends on her mood!


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