Character Background

On July 14, 2013 by T.
A Seeker

A Seeker channeling a dark current.
-Art by cloudminedesign @DeviantArt.com

Character Background Example

We all know how important a character background is. The more you know about a character, the more real she will seem to the reader. In fiction writing courses, character background is probably the first thing you will be asked to work on. Characters are the source of all stories. They come front and center – and readers will look closely for any discrepancies, clichés, or character holes. So, you better do your homework and heed the words of your writing instructor.

Recently, I was invited to join a D&D role playing group. The DM asked for us to write a character bio. I decided to play with a 63-year-old druid named Agatha Sibyl. I wrote her background over the course of a weekend, and when I was done, I felt like I knew her. In fact, I liked her so much, I will probably include her (or a similar version of her) as a secondary character in my novel.

Agatha Sibyl

Here’s Agatha’s character background. Enjoy!

 

Agatha had a knack.

Her father would tell her, ever since she was a child, that she just ‘had it’. Things just came easy to her. Oldest of five siblings, Agatha grew up in a farm. Her father farmed the fields for the local lord, and her mother raised the cattle and the livestock.

She learned farming quickly. And how to read and write from the little that her father taught her. At age six, she began writing her mother’s recipes down. By seven, she had a deep understanding of flours, herbs and spices. It wasn’t just foods that interested her; she also helped her mother with the calves when they were young, and the sick cattle when they fell ill.

When she turned twelve, her recipes were so famous, there were people from out-of-town that would stop at her farm to try them. She was ever the inventive one. Agatha loved the farm, the animals, the cooking.

Then, there was the fair. The largest fair in the realm. There were games, and competitions, and best of all, the famous cook-out. That year, Agatha begged her mother to enter the cooking challenge. She had mastered her pie recipe, and wanted to compete with the realm’s famous cooks. That meant she had to qualify, being a low-born, but she competed with local bakers and cooks, and in the end she was accepted to compete at the highest level – at age thirteen.

She didn’t win – of course. Her pie didn’t have the sweetness and sharpness one judge came to expect. But she received an award for being the youngest in the competition. Her parents were thrilled. Agatha, disappointed. Until two days later, when he came for her.

He, the famous Mister Bren. He had heard of Agatha’s knack. He had heard of her performance at the fair. And he came to see her in her farm. He was her father’s age, but Mister Bren looked younger. He wore a tall hat and silk garments. He had gold rings and a moustache. He was the most famous merchant in the realm, and he was in need of a cook for his company.

That was when Agatha met her future husband, and true love of her life. Back then, he was just Mister Bren, wealthy and pompous. Friendly and loud. He compensated her parents for raising such special girl, and he took her in.

Agatha traveled next to Mister Bren. A world opened up. She visited distant lands, she tried new ingredients. She experimented. She mastered. Three years later she was pregnant with Mister Bren’s twins. She was happily in love, and well-kept.

The twins came, Bale and Bain. The devils. She loved them at first, but they turned her into an old woman. She had no time for cooking. Mister Bren had no time for her. She raised them as best she could, but she resented being left out. Mister Bren found a new cook. Agatha moved to a cottage near the sea and got fat. Really fat.

The years passed, the devils grew older and more diabolical, and Agatha lost her passion for cooking. One night, Mister Bren visited them. She made a feast and dressed up. The men in the company drank and sang, and for a while Agatha felt like the old days. Until she saw how Mister Bren looked at her new cook – the pretty, thin sorry thing. Agatha turned sour. She ran into the kitchen, mixed fish oil, whiskey, and something else. She dropped the mixture in the middle of the table. It exploded, and ignited the wood, throwing the entire crew backwards. She didn’t stop there. She had more bottles, and began to throw them at Mister Bren and the skinny legged cook. They ran for their lives.

Next morning she packed her things, kissed her boys goodbye, and caught the early ferry back home. She left the devils to Mister Bren’s servants, and truthfully her heart lifted the moment she saw the old port in the distance. It had been ten years.

Back at the farm she learned her parents had passed away of the plague, and two of her brothers were sharing the farm. They had families of their own, and Agatha felt out-of-place. They took her in and she worked the fields and helped with the animals. She lost weight and felt content, but she never really felt home. Her brothers’ wives were never nice neither cruel. Agatha slept in a shack outside the main house that had a leak.

The years passed and a deep winter came, bringing the same sickness that killed her parents to the realm. Everyone got sick, except in Agatha’s farm. She tended to her family and the animals and kept them healthy. One of her nephews got very ill that winter, and she heard that the old lord had also been struck sick. She tended to the little boy and wondered about her own sons.  Her nephew lived, but the old lord died.

The morning after the old lord’s funeral, they came for her. A young lord was being crowned, and he had heard of Agatha’s knacks too. Of how she had kept her animals healthy, and saved her nephew. The young lord sent for her, and she was invited to court. She was around thirty at the time, but healthy and confident. The young lord asked if she could keep him from getting sick. She said she could. He named her his lordly healer.

Agatha grew fond of the young lord. He gave her access to riches. All for the sake of his health. If she even as whispered about a new herb, the young lord would fetch it for her. She began to experiment and acquire new talents, as a healer, a medicine woman, and a potions maker. She would tend to the horses, and to the young lord’s family. She commanded apprentices, and she was well liked and respected. She was very close to the young lord, Lord Grymm. One spring, she had his bastard, and named him Dale.

But Lady Grymm was jealous of them. She tried to poison Dale, but Agatha healed him. She then tried to kill Agatha, but failed. Lady Grymm’s jealousy turned to hate, and Agatha feared she would turn to her good Lord. She had no choice but to leave. Agatha only asked for her bastard to be well taken care of.

At first, she wandered. Agatha learned the ways of the land, of how to thread without a trace. She learned how to speak to the animals, and they understood her. She felt as if a longing had been quenched at last. She found peace whenever she was in the wild. A few years later, Agatha came across an adventuring company camped nearby. She joined the company and took to the mountains in search of an ancient treasure. When they finally got to the mountain where the ancient treasure was kept, they discovered that it was kept under the nest of a Roc.

The giant bird had little work of the crew. It chewed them down. It chewed their horses and their provisions. It took Agatha and a few other survivors, to feed its young. When she arrived at the nest, Agatha was able to communicate with the Roc. She apologized, and offered to protect the nest with her life, if the bird would let her live.

The Roc, too, recognized Agatha’s knack. It felt compelled by her abilities, and by her motherly love. It let her live if only she could care for her nestlings. Agatha learned the way of the birds, and of changing into one. She nested with the Roc and protected the nest from predators, while the Roc was out hunting.

The brood took on Agatha as a sibling and when summer came, Agatha and the Roc taught the younglings how to fly. She taught them how to prey, and how to fend for themselves. When it was time to leave, the Roc rewarded Agatha with the ancient treasure, and one of the younglings decided it would stay with her sister. This one she named Harry.

Agatha decided to retire after such amazing feats. She and Harry took the treasure, and built a cottage in the woods near a village. With the treasure, Agatha purchased an entire alchemy laboratory, and set shop as a herbalist. She never married again. She felt at peace, complete. Her life had turned to devotion to life itself. She forgot her past, became known as The Sibyl by the villagers, and bartered with the locals, exchanging healing salves and the occasional love potion for food and ingredients.

The village shrunk with time. Agatha turned old and fat. Harry continued to grow. The two can still be seen sometimes, flying above the trees. Harry carries Agatha in a nest-like basket, and in the distance you may even hear her laugh.

2 Responses to “Character Background”

  • Rune

    Filled with tragedy, and wonder. I don’t think I’ve every written as detailed a background story as that. Especially not in the years before I was a GM. 🙂
    Roleplaying for me, was mostly leveling and building the coolest stats. The stories were cool, but for a long time they came second to stats. Then I started GM’ing a bit, and that really changed my perspective. I’d always tried to make my characters stronger, faster and smarter, so I could beat whatever the GM put my character through. As a GM I came to realise the futility of that exercise. While still fun, for the challenge, I never beat the GM unless he wanted me to, and whatever I did, he could always do one better…or a thousand million better, if that’s what he felt like. When GM’ing I found that I loved coming up with characters and playing them. Not because they had cool stats, but because they were fun and challenging to portray. When I started playing again, I brought this new found perspective with me. I didn’t care as much about how cool my character’s stats were, but was more interested in his person, how would he react, realistically, to the world around him, and how could he help tell the story.

    About 3 years ago, tired of the class and level system of D&D, I was introduced to GURPS. I’d heard a bit about it before, mostly that it was very rules heavy, but not much else. As I made my first character I was ecstatic with their point buy system, with advantages and disadvantages. Disadvantages could be Miserly, Clumsy, Addiction, Sense of Duty, Insomniac and many more. Advantages could be Green Thumb, Hard to Subdue, Contacts, Charisma, Luck and more. Most advantages and disadvantages have extra options so you can add more personalization to each one. I read through the advantages and disadvantages, one end to the other, and my character practically made itself.
    I’ve played a fair share of GURPS since, and I really love the way it plays. The character building is fantastic, and I sometimes just sit down with the book, flipping through and making up my next character. 🙂

    Anyway, my approach to making a new character is to get the GM to tell me a bit about what he wants for the campaign. Then I’ll talk with the other players to hear their thoughts. Sometimes I’ll have a character idea by this point, sometimes not, but my next step is to flip through the book and write anything down that I think could be useful. I read a lot of books, so I can often find inspiration from different characters as I cook up my own. At some point I’ll have a draft of the character. I’ll run it by the GM and he’ll have some suggestions. I like to have an explanation for each advantage or disadvantage, and this is where I make the background story.

    When we start a new game, the characters are still being developed. We change small things about them to make them fit the story and the way we find we best like to play them. It’s a style of play that I’ve come to love. All the players have a great deal of leeway and can make suggestions to their characters and the story as it develops. I played an old wise man in a campaign, where my character “discovered” that another PC was with child (my suggestion, made in character). The GM and the player went along with it, as they saw the potential for a great twist in the story. It’s the same with the background story. It’s constantly developing in play, as we find it fits the character and the story.

    I’d love to share some of my characters if you want. 🙂

  • T.

    We share the same insight, Rune. We built stories that happened to be within a role-playing game framework. The moment I realized that was the moment I became a writer – because I already was.

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