Character Backstories

Right now, I’m knee-deep in writing backstories for the 27 “main” characters in my four-story sequence (I’m currently revising it as if it’s one long story) that includes Peter, Jacob, Jonah, and Onan. I call it PJJO for short.

When I say “main” characters, that means all the characters who support the six actual main characters.

I think it will be better in the long run if I write much more backstory than I need for every character, so it gives my anemic stories a chance to expand and give me more to work with.

My rough drafts of all of them were horribly bad. I call them anemic because…

A rough estimate of the word count for Peter would probably be 40,000 words.
Jacob is probably around 40,000 to 45,000 words.
Jonah is 47,000, rounded off.
Onan is 50,000, rounded off.

Writing long-winded backstories is helping me to see character arcs, see a more definite plot, and of course, get to know my characters and how they interact with each other. It’s hard coming up with brand new details every time. I’m giving every single character I have a last name and a date of birth, mostly to clarify things in my own mind. It helps to see the characters as real people and the better I can do that, the better I can write a story.

Here are two helpful websites for coming up with birthdays and last names (or first names) if you’re really stumped or just need some randomness:

They’re both pretty good. Check it out!

But ever since I started writing the backstories a few days ago, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by my plot and characters. It feels like the story exploded, so I suppose that when I’m done writing all these backstories, I’m going to have to pick from just the relevant facts – picking up in the aftermath of the explosion.

I want my stories to balloon out and bulk up before I chop them down again. Onan was a NaNoWriMo novel (and the three others took a month each to write), so I didn’t to characterize and explore the stories as much as I could. I’m doing that now.

For my second drafts, I want them each to be around 100,000 words, which is the length of a typical fiction book. I understand that young adult books tend to run a little shorter than that, maybe 80,000.

For me, it’s easier to chop down parts of an enormous story than it is to bulk up an anorexic/anemic one.

Now… to finish picking up after the story explosion…