How to Write a Character Backstory

We look at the must-have’s for a good character backstory, as well as how not to get overwhelmed!


When you are writing your character backstory, it can be easy to stare at a blank page and wonder how to even approach it. Character lives are complex, after all. And how do you condense all this information into a quick-read format? We’ve got an easy guide here for you to follow to help create all your characters! While this is more specifically aimed at D&D and other TTRPG’s, these can easily be applied to any character creation.

What You Absolutely Must Know About Your Character

There are core tenants that make up every character and help shape them. There are also key pieces of information that will help drive plot forward during a D&D game. When you sit down to write your character’s background, follow this list:

  • Where they grew up.
    • Was it a city or a rural environment? Was it coastal, snowy, mountainous? Was it a center of activity or a slower pace of life? All these things help shape how your character perceives the world.
  • Childhood
    • Some core childhood questions to answer are: Did they have friends? Was their family wealthy or poor? What did they do for fun?
  • Positive Relationships
    • Make note of any good relationships they had in their life, whether it be family, friends, a mentor, or other figure.
  • Neutral Relationships
    • Is there anyone important that had a small association with?
  • Negative Relationships
    • Is there someone they hate? Someone they wronged? Someone who would rather see them dead?
  • Personality Traits and Flaws
    • Make a very small list of some key points of their personality and key flaws. Don’t overdo it. A lot of this will flesh itself out once you are really inside the character.
  • Open-Ended Conflict
    • The most important thing to include is open-ended conflict. Something that can be resolved as the story plays itself out. Something that can come back to hurt the character. Did your character make a mistake? Run away from something? Leave something unfinished? All these are great starting points.

How Not to Get Overwhelmed

All that information above can seem like a lot to tackle. But don’t get overwhelmed! There is one simple rule that will help you not feel lost in this character creation. You might not like it, but here it is.

Keep the backstory to 1-2 pages.

Do not go over that. Truly understanding the character often means simplicity. Break down the core of all that information above into its simplest formats. Don’t add in unnecessary details. Don’t add in dialogue. Don’t go on “side quests”. Keep it simple so you can focus on the soul of your character.


Examples

We are going to take the list above and offer examples. These are all characters from our epic fantasy Thread of Souls book series. If you are still lost on how to narrow down this information, check these out!

  • Where did Unole grow up?
    • The empire’s capital city in the plains. It’s very busy and diverse.
  • What was Ruuda’s childhood like?
    • The youngest of 12 siblings. Her family is middle-class. She had a small number of friends. She liked to play pranks on her siblings and help with the family business.
  • What were Sen’s positive relationships?
    • Sen had a girlfriend that he’s since lost track of, but he very much loved her. He admires his former pirate captain “the Baroness” and is still loyal to her.
  • What were Artemis’ neutral relationships?
    • She knew a variety of soldiers and Rangers during her time in the war.
  • What were Taliesin’s negative relationships?
    • Taliesin crossed the line of acceptable behavior for his station with the ruling priestesses of his city, so he has angered all of them.
  • What are Jasita’s personality traits and flaws?
    • Jasita is studious, dedicated, curious, and soft-spoken. She is socially awkward and often reads people’s minds to try and understand them, which makes people angry with her.
  • What is Jade’s open-ended conflict?
    • Wild Elf Jade is wanted in the Elven capital city because she crossed racial lines and became romantic with a High Elf. She hasn’t returned to the city since.

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