Friday, September 20, 2013

"Boring" Character Background (Insert Sarcasm Here)

Recently I read some reviews of a book I'm reading. One of them described the book as Stephen King's The Stand but without all the boring character back stories. I've seen this complaint about The Stand before - about how the book would be so much better if S.K. had just cut out all this unnecessary background on the characters.

The Stand happens to be my favorite book, and one of the major reasons why I love it so much is BECAUSE of the character back stories.

Now, I could go into a whole argument describing my point by telling everyone that the hero's/heroine's journey is partly an internal journey of the main character(s), and without that internal journey, there really IS no hero's/heroine's journey, blah blah blah. Instead, I'm going to take another approach to convince people the importance of character and their stories.

Suppose you suddenly got the opportunity to go on an awesome overseas trip to Europe. (Suppose also you live in the USA, so said overseas trip would make sense to you.) What is the first thing you would do? Before you even pack? That's right, if you're like me (or most people), you'd ask your significant other if he/she wants to come with you. Or you'd call up kids, parents, family members, friends, people you know, people who would appreciate such a trip. People you can relate to. People who relate to you. People without whom the experience wouldn't quite be the same. You know once you go with these people you'll have the time of your life, because you can share the experience, bounce the things you see and experience off them, making it so much better.

Now imagine the same trip, but you go alone. Or maybe you go with a group of total strangers as part of a tour. What's the difference? Companionship. Camaraderie. Relationship. Someone to bounce your experiences off of. Someone who appreciates them just the way you do.

Think of a story like a trip. The story may take you places you've always wanted to go. Places you've never seen before. Exciting places. Who would you rather go with on that journey? A character you really don't know? Or someone who you've come to know as someone like you? Someone who would appreciate the journey with you. Someone you can experience things with.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree? Disagree? What are those stories where you've enjoyed going on the journey? What characters were those stories populated with?


  1. Hey George - I agree with you. I've always been interested in character study, just because there were nine other people in my family. One of my favorite character driven novels is Dinner at the Nomesick Restaurant. But if someone told me I could go on a trip - just between you and me, the first thing I would do is figure out the currency exchange. I don't quite care who comes with me, as long as I have enough money!

    Lisa Dillon Arsenault

  2. Let's assume someone gave you the money to go so the money was no object. I can imagine that. I'm a fiction writer, after all.