When creating a backstory for your characters, it helps to write a list of turning points – times when a choice or a chance event changed the character’s life. The bigger the turning point, the more likely it is to appear in the story itself. The small turning points are things the writer needs to know in detail, but the reader might not. That doesn’t mean small turning points are unimportant. Case in point – the small decision my son made that changed my life.
My son wanted to take karate when he was six. I thought he was too young, but told him I would enroll him when he was eight if he was still interested. He was, so I enrolled him in classes. Small decision so far, yes?
Yes and no. He continued in karate, earning a black belt, but in the process my husband got interested in the sport, then my daughter. I followed along because it was something the family could do together. Small decision, yes?
Yes and no. I took classes for twenty years. I liked the discipline, the people who ran the dojo, and the other students. I’m also really bad at letting things go (as my sewing room proves), so it wasn’t until I accepted that my joints couldn’t take the impact anymore that I retired.
Here’s where plot development comes into the conversation. The effect of exercise on brain health is amazing. Moderate exercise can help maintain cognitive function well into old age. There is evidence that adding more exercise can improve cognitive function even when there is some brain damage or cognitive decay in progress. The decision to take karate doesn’t advance the plot of my life, but it does influence the quality of choices available to me as I age. If I were basing a character in a novel on me, this would be part of the backstory, but might I be able to incorporate it into plot development as well?
For instance, if my character ended up being a caregiver for a family member, I could have her family be susceptible to a disease that she avoids because of a small decision regarding diet or exercise she made years ago. That could become the basis for animosity against her by other family members who are envious of her apparently undeserved good fortune, and that is definitely part of plot development.
Luck and wisdom!