Just over a week ago (September 1) my mom and I were watching “Warehouse 13.” (Yes, I’m a nerd and proud to admit it.) For the entire debut season there’s been this lurking storyline. One of the characters lost their lover in Warehouse 13’s Act 0. (I will borrow here from my first professor of Shakespeare.) It’s pretty much the only significant thing they’ve ever indicated has happened to this character. Now, I realize that it would be no fun if they gave us her entire life story in one go. But, characters are more than just one shaping event from Act 0. Especially adult characters who have lived in the worlds we as authors create.
So, how do we complicate our characters, make them more than just one shaping event? For me, while each character does have one or two life-shattering events in their history, I try to map out changes around them. These changes can be corollary to event prime or unrelated. Then I fill in gaps. Small events, like whether they broke a bone, usually spring from the moment unless a past injury becomes an event prime and then I definitely plan it out ahead of time. I figure that I can let those little things spring from the well as I let the words flow because they aren’t crucial to story but they make a character real.
I also look beyond event prime to circumstances of birth. Did they have a birth defect? A neurological disorder? Poor? Rich? Nobility? Disgraced nobility? Fully human? (Fantasy worlds, after all, don’t necessarily preclude a no answer to that question.) The little details like that are what helps me to complicated my characters so they’re more than just Act 0 Event Prime.
Had enough nerd language? Ok, I’ll stop.