A good writer knows more about her characters--and the world they inhabit--than she ever tells her readers. The more you know about your character--likes, dislikes, habits and history--the better. Character building rounds out your story's main players.
The reader may never learn the taxi driver who dies in Chapter 2 has three children, or the talking dormouse who helped your hero traverse the Desert of Failings has an addiction to cauliflower. As such, you may wonder if character building isn’t a waste of time.
A well-developed character comes across stronger in a story. You understand her motivation, her reasoning, and that understanding seeps into how you describe her. Besides, as you explore your characters they can surprise you, adding elements to your plot and atmosphere you hadn't realized were missing.
Getting the Whole Picture
Take our dormouse as an example. He's a minor character who only shows up for one chapter, but he plays an important role in the hero's journey, teaching the hero to face his fears and feelings.
How can he do this? Because the dormouse experienced his own failings. He's felt the sinful allure of forbidden cauliflower. He's stolen and lied to obtain the vegetable. And he only recovered because someone cared enough to get him into drug rehab (well, veggie rehab I guess).
You might hint at this in the story. You might decide it requires more explanation or simply use it as part of the story's larger backdrop. Either way, the character seems more real to both you and your reader, because you took the time to develop his history and personality.
The Importance of Backstory
Writers such as J.K. Rowling are masters of character development and backstory. We never learn whether Professor Snape likes his steak rare or well done, but it's a good bet that Rowling knows. Her notes on the world and her characters are, by all accounts, voluminous.
Only a tiny portion of Rowling's character development makes it into her books. She may have map of Hogwarts and a list of every headmaster ever to preside over the school, but readers don’t need that information. Instead, she uses such facts to keep the school--itself as much as character as any wizard--consistent in tone, history and construction.
Byline: Michelle Rebecca is an aspiring writer with a passion for blogging. She enjoys writing about a vast variety of topics and loves that blogging gives her the opportunity to publicly voice her thoughts and share advice with an unlimited audience. Read her blog at Social We Love.