Going into the Backstory
Sometimes when you’re writing a novel, things just begin to get… stuck. You aren’t quite sure where your characters are going. Maybe you don’t know how they’ll grow, or what is holding them back from doing so.
It’s at times like this that it’s best to go back to the beginning. And, no, I don’t mean the beginning of your book; I mean the beginning of what formed your character into the person they are today—delving deeply into your character’s backstory.
I am a strong advocate of knowing what wound your protagonist carries with them. This is one event in the character’s life that has shaped who they are, what they believe about themselves, and how they view the world. Knowing what happened, what caused the wound is like cracking open your character’s mind and rummaging around inside to discover why they are the way they are.
The wound can be something that happened to your character personally or it can be something they witnessed. It can even be something as simple as an offhand remark an authority figure says to them without thought, but the character believes it, internalizes it, and makes it a part of themselves. (The classic example is that in the movie Good Will Hunting where the protagonist is a janitor because his father once told him that he was stupid and would never amount to anything—so he didn’t. He believed his father and never even tried.)
Writing out what happened, how your protagonist was wounded will help you get to know them better. You can consider it a writing exercise. You can think of it as a way of getting to know your protagonist, perhaps of hearing their voice. What you write doesn’t have to be long—just a page or three. It is simply so that you can experience what your character experienced. So you can see into their mind at that moment in time when everything changed.
Once you know your character’s wound and have written it out, you’ll have a better understand of the character and will have a better understanding of what they need to do to get beyond their wound. This is how they will change in your novel (hopefully), by learning, experiencing, or being shown that the way they’ve always viewed the world is skewed and it doesn’t have to be that way—it can be better.
And one bonus for having written this exciting moment out is that now you’ve got something to either put on your reader’s blog or send out to your newsletter subscribers as a little bonus. 😊