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Ask Dr. Filth: Characters and Backstory

A board for the discussion of anything related to writing or roleplay. Here you can request feedback on anything writing-related, whether it be an RP concept, world building, character sheets or general writing, you can share guides and tips and encourage discussions on topics relating to writing and RP.

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Filth
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Ask Dr. Filth: Characters and Backstory

Post by Filth » Sun Aug 07, 2016 9:29 am

Note: I've been meaning to get some discussions like these going for way too long and thought I might as well start over with this one. It should be noted that I don't consider myself and expert by any means and this and discussions like it are meant strictly for the sake of getting a conversation going. So, with that out of the way, let's get started with...
Image
Nobody Cares About Your Character's Backstory
Allow me to explain...

Regardless of how one might feel about character backstory, there shouldn't be too much argument that a well-written character can thrive, be interesting and well rounded with little to no backstory but backstory cannot thrive without character. Well, that's not entirely true. I could read nothing but character profiles (like a video game instruction manual back when those were a thing) and be fairly entertained. For most, however, the only reason to care about a character's backstory is because we already like the character and want to know more about them.

Yet, time and again, an otherwise well written and engaging story will come grinding to a halt as they fall victim to the dreaded exposition-dump. A chunk of backstory that slows down the pace of the story being told, reminds the reader that they are reading and usually feels like something the reader has to slog through or climb over to continue the story. Usually, this happens because the author really wanted you to know something they felt was vital to your understanding and enjoyment of their character and story or they think it will be interesting. Usually, it is not.

This is not to say your character's backstory isn't important. It is. Your character's backstory should feel connected to every aspect of that character like and equation where the sums of the parts is the character as the reader meets and knows them. The reader should be able to feel like they already know the character so that when they do learn about said character's past, the backstory fits like a mold.

How you go about informing the reader of that backstory is just as, if not more, important than the backstory itself and something I hope to get into as this conversation continues. Take this brief question and answer for example that gives us every bit of backstory we need about Clint Eastwood's character Frank in Escape From Alcatraz.
  • Charley Butts: Geez, what kind of childhood did you have?
    Frank Morris: Short.
Now, I'm going to end it here before this gets too long and hope that this works for getting a discussion started. So, let me know what you think. What are your thoughts on character backstory? Agree or disagree? Why so? Please feel free to agree with me, but more importantly, please feel free to rip everything I've said to pieces. Either way, I hope this can be something we'll all benefit from.

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Re: Dr. Filth: Characters and Backstory

Post by Sheep » Mon Sep 12, 2016 5:23 am

Sheep have much long history. Sheep not share unless asked specific question about, and even then only answer specific question instead of going off on tangent.

Is not to say that Sheep think history of Sheep boring; it not. Sheep just think that no-one really interested unless it become somehow important to current event. People who talk about self exclusively just become boring to everyone around and drive people away, then they wonder where everyone went and why no-one want to talk. This true no matter how rich and interesting life history might be.

Sheep save time and headbutt self-talker in kneecaps. Is two-fold kindness; it trap them in place where people who not like not have to put up with them, and it give them genuine sympathy angle to play with people who still like them. It also warn them to stay away from Sheep, but that just fringe benefit.

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Re: Ask Dr. Filth: Characters and Backstory

Post by Nicodemus » Mon Aug 14, 2017 11:30 am

This thread hasn't been touched in a while, but hey, I think it's important, so...

I'm definitely not an expert, but here's my take. I agree that no one wants to hear your character's backstory until they care about your character. If you feel readers absolutely need some history, I've noticed a few tricks for information dumping. Make sure you tell it through your character's perspective, as if they're thinking it, and make it relevant to what they're doing or seeing, so that the memory would have been naturally triggered. It also needs to be summarized as much as possible, and broken up with your character's actions. If your character is moving or talking during their flashbacks, it gives a sense of momentum to the story, instead of coming to a screeching halt for a biography.

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