Sometimes, but not always, backgrounds can appear to be a boogeyman or a confusing morass of letters and numbers. There's also alot of confusion over "what does staff expect"? This page is aimed at clarifying just what one is, and how they could (though not must) be approached. It also, hopefully, will clarify expectations.
Why Write a Background?
Aside from being required, a background also serves some specific purposes in game. Backgrounds:
- Lay out an 'outline' for a character. What their basic interests are, for instance, and where they came from. Even Clark Kent had a past; he came from somewhere. This is one of the background's most important parts. Without his past, Clark Kent wasn't nearly as interesting a character.
- Provide potential plot hooks. Staff may bring an available hook into a storyline, for example. Plot hook use isn't just limited to staff, either: they can potentially be used by other players, if you let others know about them. Open hooks also provide ideas for RP--or become reasons to get ongrid.
- Aid the writer in working out their thoughts. Characters are more than their attack rating. Spend some time in reflection, and ask 'who is this person'? A character should be able to stand up through months of roleplay.
- Explain unusual choices. Languages that aren't the norm for a race? A high stat? How did this come about?
What Does One Usually Look Like?
Writing backgrounds can seem intimidating. It can feel this way for any person, so it's often helpful to take a step back and look at just what one is. When broken down, most backgrounds "look alike." No matter the game, backgrounds typically cover:
- This is me as a kid, with my family.
- This is me as a young teenager, beginning to grow and develop specific interests.
- This is me as a young adult at the beginning of my new life. There is some event that propels me forward.
Most forms of writing follow patterns. A background is no different. This doesn't mean that all backgrounds end up looking alike--no "five paragraph essay" is exactly the same as another, after all--it just means they tend to include the same things, and in the same order. You're also not required to use the above pattern, at all.
However, looking at it this way, it means all you as the writer have to do is fill in the steps.
Would you like some examples of backgrounds we've had on Tenebrae?
What a Background Isn't
What backgrounds are not is a complete picture. A character fresh from creation will be fleshed out, but not fully developed. What this means is that the background lays the groundwork and bare essentials. To look at it another way, what happens to a child during their early years influences who they are as an adult, but does not define them. The rest--is up to you.
I was Asked to Change Some Things. Now What?
Do I have to rewrite all of it?
Usually a staff comment doesn't mean rewriting an entire background. Most requests (that I've come across) tend to be:
- Change one or two items
- Expand in certain areas
None of these require rewriting from scratch. Though, once you update, you may find yourself adding additional details. However, as a courtesy to staff, don't add twenty pages when they ask for a paragraph or two. Often, they're reviewing more than one application and adding twenty just makes them grumpy. You would be, too.
Should I take any of this personally?
No more personally than you would if you processed hundreds of applications. Staff tend to know when to flag items that don't fit their game's theme, or concepts that (via experience) they know will not play well. They're going to review applications with this in mind. Sometimes, it can be hard to remember that, which is why the apps can be one of the least favorite positions among staffcores.
So don't take a review personally. Instead, listen to the comments and realize that there are reasons for them.