Character Development:
Time Threads

A Pen In Each Hand

By Boots

So, you’ve developed a great background story for your character. He or she is ready to enter the world you’ve created, and face the impossible situations you’ve got ready. But how “real” does it feel? Let’s try looking at character background from a different angle. Instead of a historical biography worthy of an Encyclopedia, let’s look at it from the character’s point of view. Let’s travel back and forth through time with them, and find out HOW those events shaped them. I’m talking about using a Time Thread. That thread of time weaving through a character’s past and linking them to the present. A single line of reasoning that explains those mysterious behaviors and choices your character will make throughout your story.

Let’s say your character had an ordinary childhood, middle class and free from trauma. But for some reason, you’ve decided they have a fear of failure. Every time your character is forced to choose between success and failure, they choose failure. But you can’t figure out why. A time thread can help explain it to you, and to your readers.

When this character was three, they began potty training. But it took them until they were six to master this simple procedure. Your character was the laughingstock of kindergarten because they still wore diapers or other protective measures. Maybe the teacher had to walk them to the bathroom. But that’s not where it ends. When your character was six, they tried to learn to ride a bike. They never did master that, and couldn’t follow their pre-teen-age friends on those freedom rides. And when your character tried to learn to drive, they found they were incapable of mastering the stick shift. Because of all of these events, the character automatically assumes they will fail before they even begin. Perhaps they have hidden this fear under bravado or lies (I can do it, I choose not to), or perhaps they refuse to try anything new (I just don’t want to do that) or maybe they have agoraphobia and can’t leave the house. The time thread shows you how they became this way.

If you look down just ONE time thread, as I did above, you’ll find your character has major flaws. And you’ll completely understand how, why, and when everything started to come together for your character. You’ll make them human.

Try it yourself: Write down one of your character’s flaws. Create a time thread for that flaw. Write down one of your character’s strengths. Create a time thread for that strength. Be sure to include the age of your character during the flow of time. The “real” year isn’t necessary, but specific details will help flush out the story and tell you even more about the character. Age 14, learned to dance, “Hustle”—Two left feet VS Age 14, learned to dance, “Minuet”—Two left feet.

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