Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

Creating Flaws and backstory (1 Viewer)

Status
Not open for further replies.

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I decided to bring this up. I had some misconceptions about conflict and I wanted to share incase anyone else made the same mistake.

Creating a character's biography: Newspaper editors keep a file of biographies, or bios, on hand for thousands of celebrities and politicians. This information is used to flesh out news stories or craft a quick obituary. A bio reflects the most important facts of a person’s life, highlighting achievements and influences.

Backstory is the gmc and concept of what makes a character. Without it imo you can't do much with imagination. If the character is story this is how you write about a character that appears more real.

Thoughts of the past are triggered by the present. This determines reactions as well. I was always told conflict was a conflict of interests, and that it hinders progress. This is a bad definition and makes the writer write bad work. That is bad advice. Even with examples.

Any painful memory is a good event to jot down. One character exercise I like and agree with is to jot down as many events that may influence the character in the present from the past. Another event may trigger the backstory (or the present is influenced by the past). A person who had his house burned by fire might be scared of fires especially if they nearly killed him or her.

This is a way to expose the fear (also the need and want and maybe weakness). The way characters are behaving is due to backstory and it predicts the way they will react to story events.

Likewise, the flaw can be had this way. You stack up dominant traits of a real person and write contradictory dominant traits. While the flaw is more difficult to pinpoint in the past in most cases, to get the dominant traits there is an excerise in a book which I won't post it's rather long.

However, I recommend: Between the lines: Master the subtler elements of fiction. It's a book that explains how to write flaws. It has an exercise at the beginning which I won't post. It also uses the definition of backstory I agree with. The emphasis is rarely on backstory when reading a craft book. This makes it hard to judge the points the writer is trying to make.

Backstory also creates action. It seems rather obvious. Something triggers something emotionally that the character "worries" about.

So what are some of your approaches to incorporating backstory?
What is backstory for you?
What is conflict for you?
What is flaw for you and how do you come up with it?
How does backstory help create plot for you?

This is just for self-reflection for those who might already know and want to help others understand the topic more. Misconceptions and bad advice can make a writer work harder. That is why I started this thread.

Also, I will add that the gmc chart for different characters with different wants can be only done with backstory. Something debra dixon never mentioned in her book which is explained poorly.

I hope this is helpful. (this might be useful for beginning a story from scratch when ideas don't come to you)
 
Last edited:

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
So what are some of your approaches to incorporating backstory?
What is backstory for you?
What is conflict for you?
What is flaw for you and how do you come up with it?
How does backstory help create plot for you?

I usually write out a main character's backstory, and also give them a driving motive.

For instance, in my WIP my FMC was purchased from a forced labor camp; she never knew her parents. Then within her adopted family she was treated as a servant and abused by her brothers and parents. Her driving motive is seeking safety, and has brutal disregard for anyone that gets in her way. My MMC escaped the labor camps when he was 18; he saw his family and friends abused and killed. His driving motive is rage at the system that allowed those things to happen to him, he works as an assassin.

Conflict can be internal and external. Both my characters are driven to do things they know in their hearts are bad - that's their inner conflict. The external conflict are the murders and subterfuge they use to exercise their internal demons.

Everyone is flawed, and often make poor choices because of it. This becomes interesting when a character recognizes their brokenness and works toward doing something about it.

Backstory itself creates depth for our characters, turning them from caricatures into people.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Conflict can be internal and external. Both my characters are driven to do things they know in their hearts are bad - that's their inner conflict. The external conflict are the murders and subterfuge they use to exercise their internal demons.

Everyone is flawed, and often make poor choices because of it. This becomes interesting when a character recognizes their brokenness and works toward doing something about it.

Excellent points. I also agree with the words you picked: internal demons. Also, that you said that: the character's personality is broken and that they are trying to fix it during the story.

I realize this is not the only definition for conflict. But it is a character-centered conflict at least for my needs. It is enough to inspire and it bears repeating as much as possible since conflict was never explained in such simple terms for me to understand it fully. I have a huge collection of books. Only 3 of them hint at this definition and I wished it was discussed sooner here since it's a myth that you need to watch movies and pick apart books to understand conflict. Now if there is a minor character that intrigues me in a story I will use their shallow background and expand on it since that is what I think I can gain from a book. There's the phrase good writers borrow and great writers steal. Which can be debated if that discussion interests anyone.
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
So what are some of your approaches to incorporating backstory?
What is backstory for you?
What is conflict for you?
What is flaw for you and how do you come up with it?
How does backstory help create plot for you?

Backstory is reaction to an action, if I could say it in simpler form. A character who grew up under overprotective parents will be useless compared to character who grew up making thousands of mistakes and wounds. On the flip side, the former one would be more careful compared to the latter. Now put them in a burning building with 10 minutes to escape. These two will think and react differently. As the domino effect, there will be conflicts due to their flaws and disagreements due to each others differing ideals. Imagine if they had deeper backstories.

Without backstory, it's just a burning building with two meats inside. Without burning building, they'll be just two different fellas with no stage to perform. So it's one package, really.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Thanks kp. It's easier said than done. As of this writing I plan on incorporating some backstory concerning people I know. I hope I find a good enough theme and present them humanely. Because of some tragic history that some of my family experienced. I think I now understand what people mean that from pain you make art. So that has got to be the case for short stories, novels, poetry, and any art form. You explained better than I did in a shorter amount of words.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
So what are some of your approaches to incorporating backstory?
What is backstory for you?
What is conflict for you?
What is flaw for you and how do you come up with it?
How does backstory help create plot for you?
Without the character's history, there would be no story for me. My stories hinge on the fact that the character is who they are. We are shaped by our experiences, so without the backstory, the story doesn't exist.

Conflict is tension of any kind. Physical or mental tension is conflict for me.

Flaw is a weakness for the character. It's a personality soft spot that can used to influence the actions of a character negatively.

Again, without the backstory, there is no story. All of the conflict that happens in my story is generated from the MC's personality.
 

Ibb

Senior Member
I just assume all people are prone both to embellishing their own histories as well as forgetting the truth of things given the passing of time. I consider memoirs to be the worst genre of book for this reason; just call it fiction, you cowards. As to the former point, I believe backstory and flaws are created while on the go, and any instance of pausing to introduce these elements is the equivalent of a stranger pausing you on the street and telling you all of their woes; you'd rather be on your way, but now you're stuck listening to this moron.

History and past reveal themselves through speech and action. You can get a good read on people in real life if you pay attention to these minute details. I believe creating these same details in a work of fiction is both more convincing for the overall effect, as well as more rewarding for readers as it allows them to draw their own conclusions from the characters' voices, deeds and omissions. You do not need to be--and should not be--a God to your characters. Keep some mystery, and allow readers to take a wager at the characters' pasts themselves. I believe this will create characters who feel closer to genuine flesh and blood as opposed to the caricatures that now have a neatly laid system of bullet points to follow.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Nice question. I am a pantser. So basically, I tell a story, creating as I go. My character in a way starts out blank, then is filled in my the needs of the story and scene. For example, my character starts out doing something crazy. Then, I need an explanation, and that creates character.

Once created, I know the character and then am consistent about that character.

Backstory then gets second-rating, if you will. The opening scene is her fixing breakfast for her father. So I need to fill in an explanation of why, the obvious one being that her mother died during her birth. That influenced my story a little, of course, but not in important ways.

Her husband appears on the scene, they marry and start a quest, and half-way through the book we get to his backstory. As you say, it deepens his character. But I created that backstory after writing half of that book. I have no backstory until I write it.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Currently, I am consulting some biographies of people on Wikipedia. I think they give me ideas on how to depict people. Their personal history can be interesting for storytelling. If you google you can find a bunch of them. I found an interesting one.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requested_articles/Biography/By_nationality

My only problem is I found some moral transgressions committed by a painter. But he has some paradoxical actions. Above is the index of many of the biographies of people.

So I respect if someone has a different approach. I have written some stories on the theme of art. With some more exploration I hope I can find a new topic to write about or even a new theme for the story. I have written plenty on that theme. Need to think of a different theme.
 
Last edited:

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Nice question. I am a pantser. So basically, I tell a story, creating as I go. My character in a way starts out blank, then is filled in my the needs of the story and scene. For example, my character starts out doing something crazy. Then, I need an explanation, and that creates character.

Once created, I know the character and then am consistent about that character.

I'm very close to being right there with you. Mostly I'm a pantser, but after getting stuck at a point in my first novel--and outlining the rest to get going again--I now write a synopsis of what the upcoming novel is going to be about and important events in the story.

I have an idea about the life of my protagonist and possibly two or three other important characters. It won't be too detailed, just a couple of ideas that shape who they are and why they are where they are.

I often bring in ad hoc characters to fill a specific plot need, and at least a couple of those characters wind up surprising me. What was supposed to be a throwaway character I recently introduced in my WIP, for the purpose of questioning to advance an investigation, came to life and will be a major character for the rest of the novel. She just took over a task the MC was supposed to handle. I didn't know that until I started the scene where it happens.

So while I have a plan for the story, detours present. If they feel interesting and fun, I have the story take them ... and that includes character arcs. If I was writing a character study, I'd have to bear down with more detail, but I have no interest in writing a character study. I give my protagonists goals and they work on them. Their actions as they pursue the goal carries much of the load of informing the reader who they are.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Here are some backstory questions I answered today based on an incident I recall from the past (not spoiling the story, so I will not post my answers to these). I am using my imagination, and even some of my memory to fill these out. After an incident you can answer these questions. Can be anything that happened to you or in a newspaper. This from Carol Atwood (Focused Story). It has a lot of questions such as these. You answer it as if you were the character. Imagine anything that appeared in a newspaper and fill it out. She also has a workbook. Can be anything such as a murder and so on. You role-play as the character. You pretend you were them. It's a very decent book. I am going through it and I haven't finished it.

1. How are you feeling today ?
2. What’s going on at home or in your life that makes you feel like this ?
3 . How has life treated you ? Are you satisfied or disappointed ?
4. With whom do you love spending time ?
5. What’s one thing you’d never leave home without ?
6. Are you a strong person ? Why or why not ?
7. What makes you strong ? Can you name your weaknesses ?
8. If you were honest about it, what’s something about your life that should change ?
10 . Do you feel someone’s out to get you ? Who ? Why ?
11 . Are you aware you deserve a better life ? ( No matter what’s going on , most people can improve their lives .)
12 . If you had to say , what’s one thing missing in your life ? Can you justify why this is missing ? (This might reveal the one big lie a character believes.)
13 . What’s one piece of advice that bothers you ? Do multiple people offer the same advice ? (This might reveal a mentor’s advice .)
14 . Ask the character questions that might get them to reveal emotional pain or a crutch on which they rely, and see what they say .
Reflect: After completing these questions , do you better understand your character's emotions ? Can you imagine the character's past ? Use the next page to record additional notes.


According to her there are 5 different kinds of backstories. Such as pain and others. Mistakes from the past can be another one. It's a book and a workbook focused on writing backstories for anyone interested in this approach.

There's some more to fill out as to the backstory. Like I said I haven't finished it. That is if you have a backstory these questions would be answered to help imagine these emotions.

There's a lot more. I will work on this slowly. It is a guide and workbook. I see a con to this. It is very time consuming.
 
Last edited:

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I think there is. This is just one approach to characterization. You can add backstory after the story is finished. It would add some credibility. I am trying to always try new approaches on craft. Characterization is difficult and I wish I had explicit knowledge on characterization. But right now I don't know any endorsed or specific approaches that all writers use. Characters can be blank slates.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top