A backstory is an effective way to introduce your D&D character. It helps you get to know them and their motivations before the start of your campaign.
It’s also an effective way to introduce your character to the rest of the group and ensure they work together cohesively. However, keep in mind that a good backstory doesn’t need to be lengthy or complex.
1. Think about your character’s goals
Character goals are the driving forces behind their actions. They play a significant role in your story, helping to shape your character’s arc and creating conflict.
Lisa Cron’s book on storytelling defines a strong story goal as “an escalating problem that forces the protagonist to confront an internal conflict.” While this goal may shift throughout the narrative, it should remain consistent so readers understand what’s at stake if their character fails to reach it.
It’s essential to ensure your character’s external goals coincide with their internal ones. That way, each scene’s plot points will contribute towards reaching the main character’s external goal while providing for emotional growth and revelation along the way.
Though it can be tempting to give every character a goal, doing so can become tedious for writers. In fact, some authors suggest limiting characters to one external goal and several internal ones.
Particularly with unreliable narrators, where characters may have several goals that everyone else in the story believes to be true but their actual goals remain hidden.
Characters’ objectives should have a deep significance and be grounded in their own values, beliefs and worldview. Audiences tend to identify more with those who fight for what they believe in, regardless of whether it’s good or evil.
Establishing your characters’ goals can be an exercise in self-reflection and personal growth, but it’s worth the effort to find out what matters most to them. Doing so will make your characters seem more real and help you craft an intriguing narrative.
2. Think about your character’s alignment
Alignment is the mechanism by which D&D and other tabletop role-playing games categorize characters, creatures, and NPCs based on their moral stance. Characters can be classified as Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic on a two-axis alignment table.
Aligning with your character’s alignment is an excellent way to gain insight into their mindset, particularly when creating their D&D character backstory. Additionally, alignment helps identify motivations – the reasons behind why they act the way they do.
Some people opt not to use alignment, but it can be beneficial when crafting a more detailed and personalized backstory for your character. Alignment also provides an opportunity to ask questions about their actions and beliefs that will help shape them into someone unique yet believable.
Playing either a lawful character or an antisocial one depends on their alignment. Lawful characters tend to follow rules and obey laws; conversely, chaotic individuals might break those same rules and act contrary to legal guidance.
The two-axis alignment system can be complex to comprehend, yet it’s an invaluable tool for describing your character’s thoughts and behaviors. Unlike other systems such as Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, alignment is more fluid than one might expect.
Character alignment can be used as a way of expressing their internal and external motivations, such as wanting to win the World Cup or creating an arena for evil forces. Albus Dumbledore is one such lawful-leaning character who desires to see Voldemort defeated.
3. Think about your character’s motivations
Your character’s backstory can shape their motivations. It may be drawn from childhood experiences or something that happened later in life. However you choose to construct this backstory, ensure it forms an important part of both their personality and story.
You can also consider how your character’s flaws are related to their backstory. For instance, they might fear failure due to being raised with critical parents or be concerned about romantic relationships due to being hurt in the past by someone.
When crafting a mystery, take into account your character’s fears that could affect their investigation or cause trouble for them. Doing so will add tension to your story and make it more captivating for readers.
Motivation comes in many forms, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. Some are positive such as competence motivation which stems from curiosity or the desire to learn something new; conversely, fear motivation satisfies a need for power over others.
Another type of motivation is social motivation, which stems from the need to be accepted by a group. This can be either beneficial, such as when politicians run for office because they believe their ideas benefit society; or detrimental, like when bullies drink because they were constantly insulted throughout their lives.
Character flaws can be either a positive or negative element in their story. Either they help readers comprehend and empathize with your character, or they make it difficult for readers to connect with your characters. Therefore, when crafting the backstory for your D&D character, keep these flaws in mind so that you can craft an effective and relatable arc for them.
4. Think about your character’s flaws
If you want your characters to be fully realized and likable, they need flaws. Character flaws are an effective way of adding tension and conflict into your story while helping readers connect with them emotionally.
Character flaws can range from fear, weakness or even an ideological bias. These defects have the power to shape behavior and personality, or they may indicate another issue such as psychological distress.
Some flaws are more prominent than others, such as a character’s tendency to be late for appointments or forget people’s names. Regardless, all flaws play an important role in shaping your character’s backstory.
Major character flaws are the obstacles your characters must overcome to develop and improve themselves throughout the story. Unlike minor errors, these are significant setbacks they must overcome in order to reach their objectives and form lasting connections with other characters.
Your characters’ flaws can also create tension between them and other characters in your story, leading to major arcs such as the main character overcoming their flaw or side-characters shifting allegiances due to it.
Your character’s backstory plays an integral role in developing their flaws, so it’s essential to consider it carefully. It can influence their decision-making ability, how they relate to other characters, and how they approach their central conflict.
Your character’s past can have a significant effect on how they perceive the world. For instance, if their upbringing was difficult, it might shape their opinions regarding social justice issues or other pressing concerns that aren’t directly tied to your book’s plotline.
5. Think about your character’s past
Characters’ past experiences shape their present-day worldview, fears, values and goals. Crafting a character with an engaging backstory can make them more captivating as either the protagonist or heroine of your story.
Writing a long-form novel or short story requires understanding your characters’ past experiences. Not only will this help shape your plotline, but it creates more realistic characters so readers have an emotional connection to those featured in your tale.
When crafting your D&D character’s backstory, take into account the major events in their life that have shaped them and the lessons they’ve learned as a result. Consider their childhood and adolescence as well as other significant moments from their pasts.
You can use details such as books, films, songs, sayings or pieces of nostalgia to bring your character’s backstory to life in your story. For instance, if they were huge fans of a particular movie or song at some point in their life, this could be an excellent way to reveal this part during one scene in your story.
Backstory is essential in any story, especially an adventure or mystery. It provides context and significance to your tale, so it should only be included as part of the background if it adds anything significant.
Characters often struggle to remember their backstory when another character tells it to them. To create effective backstories, writers should show it through actions, sensory details or emotions instead of relaying information from a third party source.
Constructing your character’s backstory can be challenging, yet it is an integral element of any story. When crafting this backstory, take into account major events in their life that have shaped who they are today and how they relate to your main narrative. Doing this will help create a compelling and captivating character – which ultimately is the goal of any good tale!