I’m going to continue my character-based woes today with an interesting little exercise. Believe it or not, I picked this up from fanfiction writers. I’ve seen it used a few times and snagged it as a character development tool.
The idea is to create the written equivalent of a scrapbook. Pick a decent time frame in your character’s life, and then chop it up into segments. The examples I saw used 5, 10, 15, and 20 year marks. Depending on how old your character is, this can be adjusted.
The gist of the exercise is this: for every ‘milestone’, write a quick little scene. Drop in on their tenth birthday party. Graduation when they were eighteen. Whatever on earth they were dealing with at twenty five. You name it. Imagine that their life is a hallway, and you’re sticking your head through various doors to take a peek. (Girl in the Fireplace, anyone?) This will help you flesh out their backstory.
Now, I get frustrated with writing that doesn’t make it into the final product. I spent time on this and now no one will read it. What a waste of time! Complaining aside, it is helpful to know more about your character than you put in. Their pasts shape their actions and reactions way down at the subconscious level. It’ s important to understand them. If you do, your readers will feel it, and your characters will seem a little more real.