By Karen Wojcik Berner
Thank you so much, Mary Jo, for inviting me to guest blog today. I am very excited to be here.
You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”
Talking Heads. “Once in a Lifetime.” Remain in Light. Sire Records, 1980. Vinyl.
This song pops into my head all the time. Not only were the Talking Heads one of my favorite bands back in the day, but it also helps put me into the proper writing mode to create a character’s backstory, which happens to be every time I begin writing a Bibliophiles novel.
Most series focus on the adventures of one main character. I decided to switch things up a bit. Each novel in my series spotlights one or two members of a classics book club and tells the story of their lives up to joining. The book club storyline is furthered throughout the series.
For example, A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles: Book One) is about Sarah, an overwhelmed, stay-at-home mom, and Annie, a P.R. executive dealing with fertility issues. My next book, due out in spring 2012, follows Bibliophile Catherine Elbert as she bounces from coast to coast in search of her true self.
Backstories are a big part of all fiction, don’t you think?
I start with the standard journalism questions: who, what, why, where, when and how. I can’t help myself. I was a magazine editor for ten years and a newspaper freelancer before that.
Who is this person? How old? Where does he or she come from? What kind of family? House or apartment? Rural, city or suburb? What school? What does she look like? What kind of family life did he have growing up?
Relationships, or lack thereof, with siblings or parents. Goals and dreams. Clothes? Music? Cars? Drinks? Favorite food? All these things help create well-rounded characters. As you make your choices, be careful not to make your new character a stereotype. Mix in some seemingly conflicting traits to shake things up a bit.
The main question I think backstories should answer is how did this person get to this point? What are the ramifications of the past upon the present?
Also, don’t forget to include the things that just spill out while you are writing. Most of the time, these can be the best details, even though they might change your previously conceptualized notions about your character.
That’s okay. It’s your world. You can alter it however you please.
Don’t you wish life had that option? I know I do.
About the Author:
Karen Wojcik Berner lives a provincial life tucked away with her family in
the Chicago suburbs. If it was good enough for Jane Austen, right?
However, dear Miss Austen had the good fortune of being born amid the
glorious English countryside, something Karen unabashedly covets, so much
so that she majored in English and communications at Dominican University.
Like the magnificent Miss Austen, Karen could not help but write about the
Society that surrounds her.
A booklover since she could hold one in her chubby little toddler hands, Karen
wanted to announce to the world just how much she loves the written word.
She considered getting a bibliophile tattoo but instead decided to write about
the lives of the members of a suburban Classics Book Club. The series is called,
of course, The Bibliophiles.”) When she isn’t reading, writing, or spending her
time wishing she was Jane Austen, Karen spends her time can be found sipping
tea or wine, whichever is more appropriate that day, and watching Tim Burton
movies or “Chopped,” her favorite foodie TV show.
Just Thought You Should Know: A Whisper to a Scream is Book One of a series called The Bibliophiles. The second book in the series will be released in February 2012. Stay tuned!
Karen Berner’s website: http://www.karenberner.com/index.html