People are complicated.
And sometimes, I can’t quite frankly understand them. But I try to. Many times I’ve asked myself, “Why does s/he do/say that?”
I’m pretty sure you’ve asked yourself that as well.
There are a lot of reasons—valid and otherwise—why people do, say, think, and feel things.
But sometimes things can be attributed to a person’s past, or in more author-like terms, their back-story: what happened in their life before you knew them, the prequel to the life you see them leading now.
This is just as true in fiction as it is in real life.
In Called, my character Victoria has a claustrophobic panic attack over spending the night in a cave.
Why? Because when she was a small child, a tunnel collapsed on top of her.
In the movie Toy Story 3, Lots’o is a cold-hearted, loveless bear that is adamant that no child ever really loves a toy, and that all the toys at Sunnyside are castoffs, unwanted, unloved, and their end will ultimately involve a one-way trip to the dump.
Again, why? Come to find out, Lots’o, Big Baby, and Chuckles belonged to a little girl once, and Lots’o was her favorite. They were accidentally left behind at a rest area while on a road trip, and by the time the three toys made their way home, Lots’o had been replaced with another Lots’o-Huggin’-Bear. According to Chuckles the clown, “something inside him snapped,” when Lots’o realized he had been replaced.
This past week, I had another experience that often seems downright bizarre to non-writers: I discovered something about a character’s past.
You can imagine the incredulous, amused looks garnered from several of my family members with that statement.
I have been doing a “Character Development Lounge” with a friend of mine for over two years now, and this time, I have my character Erin Wolfe (side-character in Shadow of Glory and protagonist in its currently-unwritten sequel, Ashes of Light) involved.
My friend and I keep putting Erin and the other character, Sayris, into tight spots from their story-worlds.
Erin, who is usually pretty standoffish, has grown very attached to Sayris and I couldn’t figure out why, because it was so out of character. Then she started trying to block something from her past…and I had no idea what it was.
Then it happened: I discovered that Erin had a sister, who had died. And Sayris reminds Erin of her sister.
Eureka! Things started to make sense. Things began making further sense when I realized that Erin blamed herself for her sister’s death, but as a good friend of mine so aptly put, that…is kind of cliché.
So with that same good friend’s—Luke Alistar’s—help, what little I knew of Erin’s back-story was turned on it’s head and given a good, creative shake. In a half-hour or less, I had a solid, workable background for Erin that made so many things about her make sense that I hadn’t fully understood before. Apparently I had done a lot of foreshadowing with her last summer and didn’t even know what I was foreshadowing, or that I was foreshadowing (God-thing, anyone?).
Now I know why and how her sister died, why she blames herself, why she joined the Dragon Scourge Division (elite military force, akin to our Navy Seals and Army Rangers), what she was involved in before that, and even why she has built up such a wall around herself.
She is as complicated as any “real” person.
And it’s a beautiful thing.
Rak Chazak Amats,