The Best Advice

I was about 50,000 words in to Legitimate Targets and feeling pretty pleased with myself, when I met another writer who said, “How long did it take you to write your back stories?”

I looked at him blankly and he raised an eyebrow, “You haven’t written any back stories for your characters?” He was horrified, “How can you possibly write for your characters when you don’t know anything about them?”

He then proceeded to give me the best advice I’d ever had and, just in case you are a new author, struggling to give your characters some dimension, I’m going to share it with you.

He told me to write a complete life story for all my main characters; when and where they were born – education and upbringing – parents, who they are and their careers – your characters’ likes and dislikes, favourite colours, foods, holiday destinations – bad habits etc etc. The list is endless. 

So I applied myself to the task and it took three months to complete. It was quite a revelation. I thought I knew my creations, but when I reread those first 50,000 words I realised I hadn’t know them at all !

I went over the story again, “Jake wouldn’t have said that,” it was blindingly obvious. “Rachel wouldn’t have done that! and so on throughout. 

I rewrote their scenes and suddenly my characters had form and substance; they were no longer two dimensional – they lived in my pages in glorious 3D. 

If there’s one piece of advice I can pass on, it’s that. A back story will really bring your characters to life. Try it – you won’t regret it. 

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One comment

  1. Hi Peter, back story is half the fun! I spend a lot of time daydreaming about my characters, although I don’t always write it down. I know them pretty well in my head now. It’s amazing when you write with a full knowledge of your characters, as I’m writing the dialogue they quite often change the course of the story themselves. It’s all a bit magical really. (Or just crazy, it’s a toss up between the two!)

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