So as an update on last week’s post, I definitely got a little ahead of myself in my excitement over playing my Dragonsong again! Unfortunately, last Thursday, we got put back into a full state of lockdown, which means game is cancelled until further notice.
Until then, we’d been allowed small groups within our bubbles.
Though I am a little bummed (and obviously, I totally get and support the reasoning behind it!), it gives me lots of time to work on a backstory for my character, so she’s ready when it’s time to play.
Why I love making backstories
My biggest struggle with Dungeons and Dragons characters is feeling like I can’t relate to them. It’s easy enough to play them in a battle situation, but it makes it incredibly difficult to play them properly in a role-play situation.
It’s not even that the character needs to be just like me, but it helps to feel like they’re more than scribbles on paper, you know?
I didn’t know about this when I first started playing, but one optional thing that players can do is invent backstories for their characters that outline who they are, where they’re from, what made them the way they are, what their favourite snack is, that kind of thing.
I absolutely loved it, and have written increasingly complex backstories for every character since!
How to create your character’s backstory
There are usually two ways this process can start. Either you have a story in your mind and make a character to match, or you make a character and then fill in the blanks with a backstory.
Personally, I prefer the latter approach because with D&D, the possibilities are (almost) endless. It can be hard to know what you want your character to be capable of when you’re developing their story, especially when you’re newer like me.
And you don’t want to have to worry about possibly coming up with the one thing you can’t do!
I also find this way works really well for my writing style. I tend to write stories end-first; I come up with the end goal first, and then write toward that ending. It’s a technique that helps me not get lost along the way!
This doesn’t have to be anything incredibly complicated—it can just be a few words if you want! For example, I started writing about my newest character just knowing that she was exiled from her society for military misconduct.
Once you know where you want to end your story, you can start thinking about the things that formed them. Think about:
Your race. What traits can you build from? What societal characteristics can you use to determine whether your character followed, or broke away?
For example, Talia (my new Dragonsong) is Lympasi, a society where your military standing determines your societal standing. So when I decided she’d been exiled, it was easy to come up with a situation where she would have broken her community’s law on a military mission. And from there, I could start thinking about things like whether she wants redemption.
Your class. How did they find it? What traits do they have that would make it a good fit? For example, if you’re building a rogue, they might have an innate curiosity that pushes them to discover everything they can; if you’re building a bard, they may have an insatiable need to make people laugh.
Your background. This doesn’t come into every D&D game, but if it’s something your table does, backgrounds can be incredibly helpful for creating your backstory! They also give you additional traits that can help flesh out your character.
Their family. Does your character have family? What do they do? And what kind of relationship do they have? How would that affect their actions?
For example, I don’t often create families for my characters; I had one, a shifter, who learned her skills from her mother, the town healer. Talia, on the other hand, has a competitive relationship with her two sisters that pushes her to prove herself constantly.
How to actually write your backstory
This is the fun part, where you get to be creative! Once you know what you want to say about your character, you get to decide how you want to write that story. Essentially, what you’re doing is creating a short story that sets the stage for your character.
Before you get started, consider the voice you want to use with your story. Most stories are written in third person, which feels like a narrator guiding you through your character’s past.
Personally, I like writing them in the first person, from the perspective of my character. It might sound weird, but when I’m done, it feels like they’ve written me a letter, telling me exactly who they are.
As a bonus, I find that when I read the story back, it then lodges into my mind in the first person, which makes it easier to put myself into the shoes of my character.
Adding stylistic points to your story
When I decided to write my first backstory, I got so incredibly hung up on how to write it. Is there a proper format? Things I need to include? Chapter markers? I had no idea.
The bottom line is, it’s your story. So you can do whatever you want! You can even start it with “Once upon a time…” if you like.
I like to come up with quick one-line hooks for the beginnings of my stories, the kind of line that doesn’t say much, and makes you want to know how things got to that point. Then, I take my reader through a chain of flashbacks that brought my character to that point in their life.
My favourite example of this was the story I wrote for Shea, my shifter.
“My mom always said she was one of those people that funny things just happen to. But it wasn’t until much later she joked that I was one of those funny things, too.”
It doesn’t say much—but it gives you the idea that this is the story of something strange happening to someone who didn’t expect it through their child, and makes you wonder what it is and why that changed.
Another good detail for your story is the tone. I like to give each of my characters a unique voice, and will change the tone of my writing to reflect that character’s personality. For example, I picture Shea as being a little rough around the edges, so she talks in short, abrupt sentences with occasional curses.
And lastly, keep your story’s length in mind. A short story can be just as powerful (if not more so) than a long one! It’s okay if you don’t include every possible detail; there will be things that come up as you role-play. Plus, at some tables, the DM will read backstories, so it shouldn’t be a homework assignment for them.
Do you write backstories for your characters? Have any tips to share?