Writing Scenes to Unearth Character

He had plenty of character!

As many of you know, I’m a fan of all kinds of novel prep, including creating character dossiers to allow me to learn more about my characters.  I use them to keep a record of the external stuff (really helps when you need to remember someone’s eye color mid-way through a book) and to start to dig into their desires and motivations, all the good juicy stuff.

But lately I’ve been experimenting with something else, and that is writing actual scenes from my character’s backstory.  I resisted this idea terribly when I first came across it in Lisa Cron’s book, Story Genius.  Because, it seemed like a waste of time.  Who wants to spend time writing a scene that might not appear in the novel, when you could spend that time writing one that will?  Then I picked up The Art of Character, by David Corbett, and he suggests the same thing. Sigh.

So I decided to try it. And I’m starting to be sold.  Here are some of the reasons why I like writing backstory scenes:

  1. First and foremost, you’ll learn more about your character–and character is all, isn’t it, class?
  2. It’s good writing practice.  Like practice practice. Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in all the things you need to do to plan a novel and forget what it’s like to write a scene.
  3. It’s very freeing–and fun.  We don’t let ourselves have fun with our writing often enough, as far as I’m concerned. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Let loose from the idea that this scene will appear in the book, you’re free to take it wherever it wants to go.
  4. On the other hand, you may end up using the scene, or parts of it, in the novel eventually. Who knows?
  5. Or maybe it will turn into something else.  Like a story that is a companion to your novel. Or, if you’re writing a series, maybe it will appear in the next one. Nothing is ever wasted in writing! (I wrote about this for my newsletter this Sunday. If you’re not a subscriber, just fill out that form to the right.)
  6. The more you write, the better you get at it, and this is especially true of scenes.
  7. It can blast you right out of a block.

Give it a try. Figure out some things you need to know about your character and then write a scene around it. You may be surprised at what you learn about her.

What have you done to learn more about your characters?

Photo by cmx82.

0 thoughts on “Writing Scenes to Unearth Character”

  1. Great idea and one I believe in. For example, my children characters come from the village of Dilly-Daly-Doo, but I have a host of nearby villages where they all hang out too, just like the village of Billy-Goat-Sunday. Not only do I have a host of locations but I know how they got their names, etc. In the case of Billy-Goat-Sunday, well that was founded by Jack Sprat an original settler who took up farming and one day he lost a goat. It took him five days to find the goat, and, yes…. you guess it…. he founded his Billy Goat on a Sunday and that’s how that village got its name. All of my characters have their own history even though I know that any potential reader may never get to know about them. For me, it makes my characters and the places and things that they do seem almost alive, as if they were real people, places and events. Since I know what they like, and what the don’t, etc. I automatically know how they’ll react to any given situation and you know…… it’s really fun doing this, this giving them their own dossiers an all. Great article Charlotte, so thanks again.

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