Your Character Wasn’t Born On Page One


A character, let’s call him Roger, is accused of committing a murder he didn’t do. Roger goes on the run, dodging the police at every turn. A chance meeting with a mysterious blond leads to a confrontation with a nest of terrorists. All is remedied by the end as we learn that Roger has the information the police need to thwart the terrorists. Roger drives off with his new love, the no-longer-mysterious blond.

That’s all well and good, and you may have a great story on your hands. But what did Roger do yesterday? Last week? One year ago? Can you have a compelling story without knowing your character’s history? Is it necessary to delve into your main character’s life story?

The more you know about your main character, the more we will care about them. While you don’t need to write an entire biography about Roger, it would be helpful if we knew some of the things that will factor into the story. If he has specialized knowledge that will help solve the problem at hand, what does he do that would give him this information? If he is reluctant to get involved with a beautiful woman, has he just been through a divorce and is afraid to commit again? Your character will have assorted problems, accomplishments and other traits that make his life fascinating.

All stories, regardless of length, begin in the middle of the main character’s life. People we drop into our stories have already lived a full life. Your story is the aftermath of the events that occurred prior to the first sentence you write.

Take some time to explore your main character’s life before the beginning of your story. Even something as simple as a paragraph detailing the build up to their predicament you’ll be writing about is valuable.