It’s no secret that writers and actors alike use (and sometimes abuse) the importance of back story when developing a character. (And if it seems like I’m lumping in writers in with actors, it’s because many techniques apply to both crafts, especially when it comes to characterization).
It’s pretty simple, when you think about it–what happens in our lives affects our future selves. Especially those all-important milestones, things like the first day of school, first kiss, etc. Firsts are a great way to pinpoint those moments in a character’s life that shapes who they became, and who they’re destined to become at the end of the story.
With life experience comes a unique blend of issues that make up the messy psycological stew that informs how we react in certain cicurmstances. Only instead of meat and potatoes and veggies, the stew is made up of fears, issues, and desires–or, the gut, the head, and the heart.
It’s no co-inky-dink there are nerve clusters of strong feelings in each. It’s why we have gut feelings and reactions, our hearts get broken, and our heads mess with us. This is the source of internal conflict, something I like to give my characters in spades, because I’m an evil bastard like that. Bwa-ha-ha-haaaa!
For example: In Big Dang Projeckt, I’ve got a fallen knight who desires redemption from past mistakes, fears failure, and has serious parental approval issues, especially when it comes to disappointing his father. This is exacberated by the mistaken impression his younger brother is perfect. The Golden Son is, of course, far from perfect–he just hides it better due to some of the same issues.
Another example: In Waking Muse #1, my heroine is the daughter of a well-known concert violinist who died young, and her family fully expects her to live up to her mother’s stunning talent–but by their limited terms. Because of familial and financial burdens, she fears letting everyone down, but desperately wants to be free of their well-meaning natterings. To make matters worse, her musically brilliant brother’s life is being cut short by muscular dystprophy and thus requires expensive, round-the-clock care. He’s a wild spirit not bound by mere disease, and she adores him.
So beyond the lesson that family has a knack for really messing a person up, like an unexpected kamikaze June bug does a perfectly good gumbo, what else can be gleaned from this?
That external and internal conflict need to mesh to the point where they almost become one. It does no good for my story if my broken, fallen knight isn’t forced into a leadership role in a time of crisis–which leads to more people getting hurt on his watch, though it’s not entirely his fault. It does my erstwhile violinist no good if I don’t give her a taste of freedom, only to take it away from her. (Don’t forget–evil bastard.)
What’s that character-defining moment that starts a person down a certain path in life, the one that rings destiny’s bell? I’m on the hunt.
How about you guys? What insights into the human condition have you discovered recently? Word-wrangling minds want to know.