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by Mervyn Love

A character's backstory is important whether you are writing a short story or a novel. With a short story it can be less in-depth than for a longer work, but it will raise your readers interest when you present them with a character they can believe in. In fact, that is the secret really: If YOU believe in the character, the chances are your readers will as well - and vice versa.

Building a backstory is fun and easy to do. All you need is a pen and paper, or even just Notepad on your PC. Simply work through a checklist like the one below and jot down the important points.

1. First, decide where they were born and in what year. Were their parents poor or comfortably off? Were they brought up in a one-parent family? Were they an orphan? These beginnings will have shaped their lives in various ways. Write down in what ways your character has or has not been affected by their origins.

2. Next, write down a brief summary of their schooling (if they had any) and on to their first job. At what age did they start work, and what were the factors that led to this choice? It may be that your character could not find work. Write down why this was and how they managed to live without the income a job would produce.

3. The third point is crucial in building your character. Write down the significant events in their life so far, that were instrumental in moulding them into the person they are today. Did they come up against any strong people who influenced them? Have they loved and lost? Have they been conned or duped? Have they been through some disaster, natural or man made? Write these down.

As you begin to build up a life story from the above, almost certainly you will think of other things to include which I haven't mentioned. If you do that's good, because it shows that the character is becoming a real person to you.

Once you have got the bare bones recorded, you can always go back and add or fine tune, but remember that for every part of the backstory there should be some reason for including it. You, the writer, should know what each event did in shaping the character you are presenting to the reader.

You will soon find that with a little practice, you can build up a plausible backstory in just a few minutes. Put that small amount of effort in and it will reap dividends.

Mervyn Love is the Editor of WritersReign, a lively and fact-filled website for the aspiring writer, which provides help and encouragement as well as many resources including writing competitions listings, markets listings, article archive, Q&A section and more. Sign up for his FREE Creative Writing Course: http://www.writersreign.co.uk.

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