CHARACTERS How to write better realistic backstories?

Quincunx

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Hey all,

I'm wondering how I can write more compelling backstories for characters in modern, realistic settings. (To be clear, I mean present-day Earth settings where the backstory would not contain any sci-fi or fantasy elements.) I feel like what trips me up is a combination of the following:
  • I'm more used to writing RPs where all the characters are badasses in a world full of badasses, rather than normal people in realistic life.
  • I feel apprehensive about portraying characters who suffer irl traumas and issues that I haven't. (It sounds dumb, right? Plenty of RPers play characters who have experienced things their RPers haven't, and not just arcane things like superpowers. So why should it be hard here?)
  • I wish I had a stronger understanding of the fundamentals that make a good backstory in general, not just in particular settings.

How can I become more skilled and confident when I write backstories in modern, realistic settings?
 

Adrian

Papa Bear
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Write what you know: draw parallels from real life, use real people as inspiration and work from there. We all have experienced major events in our lives that shaped us into the person we are now. The same goes for your characters. Give them experiences that add depth to who they are as a person.

As for IRL traumas/issues, research is your best friend. Read articles, blogs, & journals where people talk about their experiences.

Also, tropes can be a good thing. You can use tropes to build your backstory without being cliche.
 
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The Mood is Write

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My strengths lie more in the direction of emotions and short-term ideas, where my ability to plan out long-term plots is weak. I do best with a partner who helps me cover that weakness.
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The list is short. because it's hard to find genres I don't enjoy.

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First, Adrian got most of what I'd say to do.

Second, remember that what to one person is life-changing may be trivial to another.

Third, the best way to learn how to write is to read. Read and think about what you read. When you read a backstory, take notes to learn from. Put it into bullet points and figure out how A event leads to B development and C conflicts.
 
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Reina

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When you're thinking about a good back story you have to first analyze your main character or whomever it is you want to issue a back story for. You have to look at their personalities and the way they treat others in the story. So if Character A is an a-hole to everyone then ask yourself why is Character A an a-hole. How was the character raised? What could have caused the character to become that way? Did they have a trauma in their life? Do they have family at all? Etc.

When I create backstories, I usually work with the present day character and then trace them back to what could have made them that way.

Example: Main character is a queen but she's cold and has a general distrust of men. Why? Because she's broken hearted about having watched her husband die and the men that came after only wanted her for her position.

You can go anywhere you'd like but my experience has always been to look at the present and work your way back from there.
 
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Quincunx

sludge of love
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Speed of Light, Several Posts a Day, A Few Posts A Day, One Post a Day, A Few Posts a Week
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Writing Levels
Intermediate, Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female, Futanari, Androgynous, Primarily Prefer Female
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
tba
Favorite Genres
Magical, Scifi, Action
Genre You DON'T Like
Furry, realism
Thanks, everyone! That all seems doable and intuitive.
 

One Who Tames

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Here is one option that I'm not sure is often considered.

Find somebody (or a couple people) to proof over your character concept. Extra points if you can find somebody who has different tastes than you. This option does require a bit of thick skin as it requires feedback that could come across as criticism.

I have found that the key to this method is doing your best to remove your ego from the equation. Take the poked holes, the criticism and the jokes as ingredients to spice up your character. Does somebody point out an over-arching theme to your character? Maybe a cliche? Something they don't like? You can use all of those.

Another option I use is to play out a character's major transformative events in their life. This is good to do with a friend as well. My brother and I do a lot of world building this way. He's the creative one and I tend to be the more analytical.

Maybe you just like a character with plenty of positive aspects. A friend points them out to be a Mary Sue. Maybe she is? Maybe she thinks so too.

You could give her an arrogant attitude toward other people because success comes so easily to her. People who are used to success often don't react well when they feel like they have a rival, nor do they know how to handle failure.

Maybe this makes her devious.

Maybe this manifests in violent outbursts if she begins feeling insecure.

She might not have many friends, which feeds loneliness into that insecurity.

Perhaps, let's say, she does find a rival. That rivalry grows and she feels jealousy over the other person's ability to make friends. They clash over the next two years and she starts trying to break that person down to defeat her and forever assert her dominance.

Maybe that person dies. It could be for any reason. They don't even have to be that good of a person, nor do they have to be an especially bad person. This is the vehicle for her next transformative event.

Hearing that her rival died could impact her pretty hard and cause her to reflect on their rivalry. Did she wish ill on the person? Maybe her rival was battling an illness the whole time and never mentioned it. This causes her to doubt herself, her intentions and if she is a good person or not. She sees her rival's friends broken over the ordeal and feels sympathy for them. She feels like trying to help them but doesn't know how.

Her grades end up suffering as she wrestles with thinking about somebody other than herself for once. She spends a lot of time trying to rationalize these doubts in her head.

Maybe one of her rival's friends comes up to her and talks to her. Eventually, she is introduced to the rest of them and gets to hear about the positive aspects of her rival.

Her grades improve and her attitude relaxes. She is still competitive but now not nearly so quick to judge or to be devious. She still suffers from the guilt of what she did but this turns her into a guardian of others instead of winning at any cost. Her demons are still there, which adds flavor, but she is a strong yet internally conflicted character now.

Just thoughts.