Check out my latest review on The Jungle Book, a story that has been redone and rewritten in several ways, most notably the Disney animation. How does the original book hold up against the live action/CGI remake? Check out the BSBS Review below!
In the previous installment of the Crafting a Character series, we took a look at how characters think and behave in the present. What usually shapes those behaviours and attitudes is their past.
Backstory is the cornerstone of all character development because it’s in the past where almost the entire identity of a person is formed. Whether you’re creating the backstory of a character, or looking at your own history, the past has a ton of answers for your questions about the present and the future.
Why Can’t You Just Let It Go?
Main Shaping and Influencing Incidents:
Usually in childhood, but not always, we’ve all had significant moments in our lives where our views of the world and of ourselves were changed forever. These incidents range from being tragic, comical, or inspiring. Either way, discovering the life changing events in your own life, or creating one for your character, can drastically improve your understanding of what may drive a person to behave the way they do in the present.
In a classic episode of The Simpsons, the family wants to go on vacation, but when their plane is about to take off, the family learns that Marge has a fear of flying. “Let me off the plane,” she says and then starts pacing down the aisle back and forth.
“Let me off! Let me off! Let me off!”
Marge starts going to therapy and at the end of the episode, she uncovers childhood memories she must have locked away for years.
She recalls thinking that her father was a pilot, and child Marge follows him into a plane to find out that he was a stewardess–which was a rare occupation for men in the 60’s–and the embarassment of her father working a woman’s job apparently traumatizes her into having a fear of flying.
There were a few more adverse memories she recalled, and those were the ones that seemed more logical in explaining why she had the fear, but I won’t go into detail about them here. Just watch the episode, it’s hilarious!
Can you recall any traumatic events that have fundamentally wounded you for life? Or do you have any memories of being significantly inspired by someone that motivate you to this day? How have any of these influencing incidents impacted the way you behave in your present life?
Relationship With the Family:
Your family is your first experience of what it’s like to be in a social circle, particularly in your formative years. The way you relate and interact with your extended family helps you develop the social skills (or lack thereof) that which you bring in to the rest of society, be it at school, post-secondary education, work, and the market place.
More importantly, your parents’ marriage vastly influences your ideas of love, marriage, and friendship. And depending on the bond you have with your parents–whether it’s strong, weak, or non existant–you’re automatically subjugated to either replicating or replacing your experience of them.
The nameless narrator in Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk grew up, for the most part, without a father. So when he befriends the wise and witty renegade Tyler Duren, he looks up to him as a father figure.
When they start living together, Tyler gets into a sexual relationship with Marla Singer, a woman the nameless narrator met at a bunch of support groups. This becomes a recreation of the narrator’s childhood in that he never sees Tyler and Marla in the same room together, and becomes the middleman of their interactions–thus recreating his experience with his parents before they got divorced.
Furthermore, the underground Fight Club would not be possible had its members had their fathers around, or meaningful bonds with them if they were around for their childhoods. It’s well established among psychological circles that fatherlessness causes a variety of societal and psychological problems.
What template for romance have your parents imprinted for you? What relationship do you have with your extended family? How have these affected your mode of interaction with the rest of society?
Where They Grew Up:
From your country of origin, to your economic status growing up, and your childhood home, where you grew up also greatly defines how you’ll fit in to the rest of society.
In West Philadelphia, born and raised, is where the Fresh Prince spent most of his days. But as you know by the title sequence theme song, he got in one little fight and his mom got scared, so he moved in with his uncle and auntie in Bel-Air.
What made this sitcom so great was how Will Smith’s care free and eccentric hood mentality clashed with the prestigious and more “dignified” culture of upper class Los Angeles.
This made for an interesting conflict with Will trying to behave in a way that was acceptable to the culture, while also staying true to himself. Though, the funniest parts of Fresh Prince for me was when he was free to be himself around rich and pretigious people, and they welcomed him with open arms, thus showing that cultural division can be torn down if both parties are willing to be friendly.
Are your current living conditions different from how you grew up? If so, what has this contrast done for your sense of identity? If not, was it a conscious choice to remain comfortable with the familiar or do you intend on breaking the cultural barrier?
Stay tuned for Crafting a Character Part 3: A Better Tomorrow
When I was a kid, I used to staple stacks of blank paper into a book-like form, and write my own novels for my own entertainment. I would just spend countless of hours illustrating and writing among the pages after happily drawing a cover and slapping my name at the bottom.
Structuring the story according to how many more pages I had left, I knew that when I got to the 3 staples in the middle of these makeshift novels, it was the halfway point of the story and the stakes had to increase. These stories would usually follow a group of super heroes fighting the most dastardly villains, who eventually reformed to join the good side until there was no one left to fight.
I fondly remember writing these novels so vividly because little did I know back then, I was already living out my dream of being a writer. For as long as I could remember, I have had a fascination with playing mental movies in my head, and most of the time, I excluded my self from the action as a huge array of fictional characters would play out their roles in dire situations.
For years, this self entertainment would keep me up at night and it actually took a while to register for me that I should start jotting these mental movies down. Finally! I could have a place to contain all the insanity that went on in my head, and I would bleed it all out through ink onto a page, which would serve as a film if you will, to create a method for all the madness.
I always knew this fire of creativity erupting within me could never be stifled, for in elementary and in high school, every time we were assigned to write short stories for English class, teachers would be dismayed by how drastically I would disobey the 2-5 page limit. I could never, ever conceive the idea of being able to tell a whole story within such a short amount of pages.
I would end up writing a 20+ page story that would contain much more vivid descriptions and bits of dialogue than any of my classmates’ work. And I try to say that with the utmost humility, because of course to most of them–most of them, but not all of them–it was just another assignment to get done. For me on the other hand, I took as an opportunity to challenge myself and actually give my all to a school assignment, which was something of a rarity for me throughout my life because I never found school work to be all that rewarding to do.
Hello and welcome to Your Write to Live! I am Marlon Manalese, and I am an author and bookworm whose taste in literature has transformed drastically throughout the years. Where I once started with an interest in medieval fantasy, I have gravitated towards contemporary fiction (both adult and young adult novels) because I find it more pleasurable, valuable, and relatable to read about the modern life and everyday people–as opposed to the battle hardened badasses you would find in the Dungeons and Dragons and urban fantasy novels I used to read.
It is my belief that we are drawn to fiction because we see like to see ourselves in legendary protagonists who overcome insurmountable challenges in order to achieve their goals. No matter what genre or age range, usually the best novels are the ones people can relate to because they invoke empathy in not just the protagonist, but also the antagonist and supporting cast.
My intention with Your Write to Live is to provide practical writing tips that can also be applied to life. From my years of study in crafting a novel, I have gathered that authors do a ton of organizing in terms of character development and understanding the conflicts that challenge their goals and motivations. As someone who is heavily invested in self knowledge and personal development, the idea clicked: why can’t we use these tools to help improve our own lives?
Perhaps through this blog, like I did with the makeshift novels of my youth, I can help ally with the superheroes of your mind to reform the villains of your subconscious.