The Importance of a Character’s Backstory

Many times in acting seminars I receive questions on how to really flesh out a character with the way they act and things that they say. In the improvisational style of acting you have the ability to feed off the customers and go in any direction with your character. Of course I encourage you to experiment…to try different things…to think outside the box with your characters. Sometimes you will fail, but sometimes you will succeed and with each successful character and each failed character you will always learn how to improve. The one thing that helps without a doubt is to create a backstory or history for your character.

Now you may be asking how this could possibly help, but I assure you in the long run it does. I’m not talking about writing an epic novel for each character. A simple backstory that tells your character’s name, where they came from, simple motivation, and whatever else you think is important. It can be very short and simple or long and complex. That is up to you. You don’t need to write something that will be published. You don’t even have to tell anyone if you don’t want to share the story. Even if your not good in creative writing try to at least come up with a bullet point outline for the character. Just come up with something that gives your character depth.

Why do all this? Well quite simply if you understand your character in a few basic ways you now have a blueprint of sorts to how to act. For example knowing where your character originated from will help you with your dialog. What accent would they have? Are there key words…specific words that are commonly associated with specific words for example they say that people from Ohio say pop instead of soda. That kind of thing. Some of it seems trivial, but a convincing performance hinges on details.

Another example where a character background helps is movement. Knowing what your character has been through in the past that shapes him to the horrific individual he or she is today helps every aspect. Maybe it’s an injury that makes the character walk with a limp or maybe it’s past forces it to lurk in the shadows taunting until it’s time to strike. Whatever it is a character backstory helps everything. Even how the character looks when designing a makeup for it.

Now I’m not saying you need to go that in-depth. Personally some characters I create just have a name and a few basic traits. Others I go more detailed with. Sometimes I write them down other times I just keep it in my head. My point is do what you need to do to elevate your character to the next level.

This is just a tip that if you are having trouble developing characters should help you out alot. You may have the skills or natural ability to develop characters easily or you may already do something similar. Each of us have developed our own trick and tips that work for us. The key here is to help those newer to the industry improve. If you have your own tips you would like to share feel free to share them below in the comment section.