Dealing with the Past

In Karen White’s contemporary novel, The Sound of Glass, the secrets of the past are interwoven with events of the present. As the story unfolds, the strings binding together families slowly unravel, revealing a disturbing proclivity that is spread across time, place and generation.

This novel reminds us that a person’s history is built by a series of events that influence the development of character.

A classic example is that of an abusive parent or spouse, who abuses the children of the union, who then grow up not knowing any other path of relationship building, and so repeat the pattern of violent action on a new generation.

Likewise a family that is created by love, kindness and caring raises children who feel the warmth, grow up understanding how love binds together individuals and so build new relationships based on mutual respect.

When designing a character, the writer must take into consideration that individual’s past. While the past might not be described in the text, but it does influence how an individual sees and responds to the world.

One way to do this is to write a character sketch of a defining moment in that person’s life. It could be a remembrance of being held in the father’s arms, snuggling with a sibling in a hammock strung between two strong trees, talk around the table during dinner.

Imagine how differently the individual sees the world if he is smacked across the face for speaking during a meal, pushed against a wall for dropping a toy that shatters into pieces or is whipped with a belt for forgetting to pick up dirty clothes.

Your task is to create the background for a character that already exists in one of your stories. You can do this either by writing a scene or by making a list of bulleted points.

Once you have done this, reread your story and look for places where the individual’s reactions would be influenced by the past. Make corrections in order to build consistency.

Have fun with this one.

Good luck.

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