Give Your Characters a Past

Hi! My name is Humphrey. I’m a cat. I’m also a writer. You probably already know that. But what you may not know is all the details about my past. But that’s okay. As a reader, you don’t need to know every single detail about my past. But as the writer, I need to know. It influences voice, characterization, and important details such as the plot.

When you write a middle grade novel, it’s important to give each main character and each supporting character a past. Write out all the details about their past and keep it in your characters’ files. Your readers don’t need to necessarily know every detail, but you do. It will help your characters seem real in your story.

I have a past. See my photo? I was a cute and cuddly little guy. That’s why it’s such a surprise that I grew into a 26 1/2-pound giant.

When I was a kitten, I loved to do acrobatics. I’d jump into the air, twist around three times, turn upside down and over again and land on my feet. That’s why I still love to take flying leaps into the air. I jump up on top of the refrigerator. I launch myself up on top of the tall desk in the office. The problem is, now that I’m so big, I can’t get down very easily. My owners have to keep an eye on me and rescue me when I’m stuck way up high. See how my past influences what I do today?

When I was a kitten, my favorite toy was a feather duster. I chased it all over the place. So today, all you have to do is show me a single feather and I go bonkers. Gotta grab it and toss it and chase it as it floats through the air. Any feather causes the same reaction. I just can’t help it—because of my past.

And I’m not the only one with a past. My poochie pal Lucy has a past, too. Every night she used to play tag around the sofa with her other cat friend. So when I arrived at my new home as a kitten, the first thing Lucy taught me was how to play tag around the sofa, too. That’s why we play tag almost every night together. If Lucy didn’t have a past, we probably wouldn’t play tag like we do.

When you write a middle grade novel, give each of your characters a past. Write about their past and keep this information in your files. Fears, likes, and dislikes from their childhood will influence them now in the pages of your story. It will help your characters seem real, give them each a unique voice, and make your story sing! And that’s the cat’s meow!