Protagonist’s Backstory PLANNING YOUR NEXT STORY: PART 6

Protagonist’s Backstory   PLANNING YOUR NEXT STORY: PART 6

Other discussions in this series include:

Today we will discuss something related to getting to know your protag and that is learning from them about their background, backstory. We all have one. If you’re alive and have lived at all, even for a minute or two, you have a backstory.

So how do you learn about your protagonist’s? You ask him/her through an interview. Devise a series of questions you might ask anyone you know (real person) or want to know about. Then verbally ask those questions to an empty chair. Although that chair won’t really be empty, because your protag will be sitting there, answering or refusing to answer, your questions. If they refuse, find a way around the question to seek the same answer.

Since you completed a character worksheet last month, you already know the basic stats about your character: hair color, style, length, eye color, etc. What you seek now is more in-depth about their childhood, their parents, siblings, schooling, tauntings or bullyings, special events from their past which helped make them who they are.

Don’t forget to ask WHY or HOW. Ask about any unresolved issues from their past and how they might complicate matters now. What are some catalysts that marked their life? How did they respond/change?

Here are a few questions to include in your interview:

What do people like/dislike about you?

What do YOU like/dislike about yourself?

What are your beliefs? Secrets?

What are your personal demons? Why? What have you done about them?

Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Why? How does this affect your life?

How confident are you?

What is your level of morality?

What would you change about yourself if you could? What’s stopping you?

Do you like your name? 

Who is the most important person in your life? Why?

What would you do if something bad happened to them?

Who were your friends growing up? Now?

Who were your enemies then? Now?

Learn all there is to know about their parents/guardians. I discovered an entirely new side to my story while discussing Rayna’s parents with her. Suddenly the woman who turned her over to the Peacers had a motive and the bully in the Gestortium’s motive matched giving me bookends. Readers LOVE bookends in stories. I’ll talk more about them at a later date. But by learning about Rayna’s mother’s backstory, I discovered she also had a bully growing up (the one who turned in Rayna) and the two bullies’s motivations are the same: now and then for Rayna and her Mum. Without learning about her Mum, I would never have seen that parallel.

Ask about siblings, dead or alive. You’d be surprised how many protags have experienced deaths they don’t like to discuss, but which had an impact on them. Ask about cousins, aunts & uncles, grandparents, neighbors, playmates (again-this became instrumental in my later bully motivation), etc.

Don’t forget to think about all of the characters revolving around your protag. You DO NOT need such in-depth interviews for all of them, but any who play a major role in the story need to be interviewed—if only to get to know them better and not use any of their background in the actual story.

Next month,

Thanks to K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel

Rebecca Ryals Russell, a fourth-generation Floridian, was born in Gainesville, grew up in Ft Lauderdale then lived in Orlando and Jacksonville with her Irish husband and four children. Due to the sudden death of Rebecca's mother, they moved to Wellborn, near Lake City, to care for her father, moving into his Victorian home built in 1909. After teaching Middle Graders for fourteen years she retired and began writing the story idea which had been brewing for thirty years.  Within six months she wrote the first three books of each series, YA Seraphym Wars and MG Stardust Warriors. The world she created has generated numerous other story ideas including two current works in progress, SageBorn Chronicles based on various mythologies of the world and aimed at the lower Middle Grade reader and Saving Innocence, another MG series set on Dracwald and involving dragons and Majikals. She is finishing a YA Dystopian Romance which has been a NaNoWriMo project for three years. She loves reading YA Fantasy, Horror and Sci Fi as well as watching movies.  Read more about Rebecca and her WIPs as well as how to buy books in her various series at  You may email her at


Karen Cioffi said...

Rebecca, great tips for creating an in depth protagonist. Some of the interview questions are new to me and good to know. Thanks!

Heidiwriter said...

Excellent! I love the idea of interviewing your character. It can be quite surprising what surfaces! Another great exercise is to write a letter from your protag to you, as though she/he had just found out you're writing about her/him. Also enlightening! Thanks for the tips.

Magdalena Ball said...

Great suggestion, Rebecca. You could even use that interview as a blog post or promo when the book is out.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great questions. They can really jumpstart your writing.

Linda Wilson said...

Great food for thought! I'm sure I will find your series useful. Thanks, Rebecca!

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