Peeling Away the Layers

How much of a character’s backstory should a writer know?  I’m not talking about the main character whose history, even though not always a necessary part of the story, is something you would have in your mind.  I mean the secondary characters.

I’m in the process of re-writing a large portion of a novel and found myself drawn to a secondary character whose role in the story is key but limited.  But then I got wondering about her, about her relationship with her dad (who is also a small character in the book).  Who raised her?  When did she first decide to turn her back on her legacy?  I wonder if this is how it starts when authors write short stories about characters in their novels because I can totally see a short story in the works for Gabrielle.

But what I found when I resumed writing her scenes is that the whole backstory question added a component to her that I had been missing.  She took on new life.  All the questions about her that I’d figured out in my mind, even though what I reveal to the reader is only ten percent of what I know about her, filled her out and made her real.

I do character profiles, internal and external, for the main characters in my stories.  There are lots of details about these people that you may never need but when it comes time for them to make a decision, even if it’s as simple as what they order in a restaurant, it helps to know them inside out.

But I get lazy when it comes to the other guys, the minor characters.  My light bulb moment may have changed that.  Even if it’s not a full blown character profile, I think I will be spending some time with all the faces in my book to look into their backstory, peel away their layers, so that they are real each time they hit the page.