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Character Planning: A Little About Backstories and Inner Demons

by Jennifer on October 31, 2010

By Jennifer Blanchard

Now that you’ve begun planning your NaNoWriMo novel, it’s time to think more about your characters. Yesterday I explained what the three dimensions of character are and what is included in each one.

While all three dimensions of character are important and necessary if you want to create a character that’s compelling and believable, dimension number 2 (backstory and inner demons) is just a little bit more important.

Why?

Because, as Larry Brooks explains in his eBook, The Three Dimensions of Character:

Your main character needs to overcome his/her inner demons prior to his/her final showdown with the story’s antagonist, and the overcoming of those inner demons becomes the enabling factor that helps him/her conquer all exterior obstacles.

That’s why you need to focus on the inner demons and make them really compelling and really believable—It’s going to be the thing that makes or breaks your main character.

Because if your character can’t overcome her inner demons (or if you can’t convince readers she’s actually overcome them or that they’re even worth trying to overcome in the first place), she can’t be the hero of the story.

And the protagonist has to be the hero. Or the story won’t work.

Some Common Inner Demons
So what counts as an inner demon? Here’s a list of some of the most common ones (excerpted from Brooks’ eBook):

  • Cowardice
  • Selfishness
  • Addiction
  • Fear
  • Conceit
  • Arrogance
  • Hatred
  • Resentment
  • Bias
  • Lack of confidence
  • Stupidity
  • Genius
  • Heritage
  • Poverty
  • Ignorance
  • Sociopathic
  • Insensitivity
  • Naivete
  • A spotty moral compass
  • Sexual deviance

“In general, any aspect of humanity that isn’t in line with expectations of others or the accepted ground rules of success within the boundaries of your story,” Brooks says.

More About Backstory
When you’re creating a character for your novel, you should know as much about the character as possible. But that doesn’t mean you should share all the information you know about the character with your readers.

Sometimes, less really is more.

Iceberg Principle
Brooks talks about this principle in his eBook. That principle is:

Show 10 percent of your character’s backstory

What that means:

  • Know everything about the character’s backstory, but keep most of it on the “DL.”
  • “Flashback scenes solely for the purpose of explaining backstory are never a good idea,” Brooks says in his eBook. “You should be more subtle and artful in delivering backstory as part of narrative flow.”
  • Only include backstory that moves the plot of your novel forward or is necessary in order for the reader to understand what is happening in the story.

For more details on crafting compelling, believable characters, read Brooks’ eBook, The Three Dimensions of Character.

Coming next week: Schedule prep and surviving NaNoWriMo.

If you’re attempting NaNoWriMo 2010 and would like help staying motivated throughout the entire month, be sure to sign up for my 30 Days of NaNoWriMo Tips for Procrastinating Writers e-mail newsletter.

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is founder of Procrastinating Writers. For more great writing tips, articles and information, follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

**I’m part of a NaNoWriMo blog chain. Check it out for even more great tips and information.

Note: The links to The Three Dimensions of Character are affiliate links. If you purchase Larry’s must-have eBook, Procrastinating Writers will make a couple bucks. Thanks for your support.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 M November 3, 2010 at 7:23 am

I am having trouble with identifying the inner demon in my protagonist!

2 k December 31, 2011 at 2:53 am

ditto, M (T^T)

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