by Janis Patterson
Today is August 23. It’s the birthday of two of the most important people in my life. Unfortunately we all live far apart, so our celebrations are now confined to postal, electronic and telephonic mediums, but we have the memories of more exuberant parties in the past. Happy Birthday, my dear ones.
Which – since I am first and foremost a writer all the way down to my bones – started me thinking about how birthdays affect character. It is a fact that everyone has a birthday. It’s a given of being a human being, along with the fact that someday everyone will die. However, everything else is different for every person, and it is those differences that give your character depth and personality.
Does the character even know his birthday? Did he have fantastic parties with mountains of presents, bounce houses and pony rides? A family dinner with a few presents and a homemade cake? Just a cupcake and a song? Or no celebration at all? Whatever the character had affects what he is presently and what he regards as normal, for good or bad.
No, you don’t have to put the history of his birthdays in your story, but that history affects the way he behaves, and you have to know it, just as you know his history of school and everything else in his prior life. Was he a straight A student or a sullen dropout? Did he date a lot, or not at all? Did he have an allowance or work for pocket money or did he have to work to support the family? All these affect what he (or she) is now.
I repeat, none of these facts have to appear in your story. The character doesn’t have to sit and remember on the page how Ella Sue turned him down when he asked her to senior prom, engendering in him a life-long hatred of blondes who wear glasses. On the other hand, he can – just remember it’s your story and you must write it the way that is best for that story. I’m just saying everything that happened to your character in all of his life before the story starts makes him the person that he is, and you must know it. Our past affects our present. Our past makes us what we are now, and that goes for fictional characters too.