To develop a character, I’ll jot down pages of notes on a character’s past, even if it doesn’t end up in the story. Backstory shapes the lens through which people see the world. It makes them relatable. Some of the questions I ask my characters are:
- What parental teachings helped you be a better person, and what parental fumbling do you want not to repeat?
- What is your deepest fear, and what brought it about?
- What emotional wound hasn’t healed? What caused it?
- What was the worst day of your life?
- What’s your fondest memory?
These are just a few, but the answers determine how my heroine acts and reacts. Understanding their hurts, fears, and shame stirs readers’ empathy.
Crowds draw attention, but the individual’s story plucks heartstrings.
I lived in downtown Boston for a year and learned city life wasn’t for me. There’s nothing like crowded streets to turn people into objects instead of individuals. Add cold weather and rushing to get indoors, and passersby become obstacles hindering you from getting on the bus, into a cab, or in a building. I’d never felt as alone or invisible as I did while living in a city.
While there is strength in numbers, that power comes with great responsibility. Mob mentality can overlook the individual. The collective weighs the benefit of the group and often supersedes individual needs. Social contagion is why the religious leaders dragged the woman caught in the act of adultery and tossed her at Jesus’s feet.
The religious leaders’ groupthink was more determined to catch Jesus in a trap than to seek justice. If they had genuinely sought justice, they would have brought both the man and the woman before Jesus because adultery isn’t a solitary act. The Jewish leaders used a catch-22 and demanded Jesus decide her punishment. Jewish law called for the woman to be stoned, and if Jesus had released her, he’d have been breaking the Law of Moses. However, if he’d had the woman stoned, he would have been breaking Roman law, and then the Jewish leaders could go after Jesus on that account.
Jesus said, “Let any of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7).” One by one, the accusers dropped their rocks and walked away. Romans 3:23 states, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jesus had the religious leaders examine their own backstory, and they no longer found the will to throw the first stone. The herd mentality turned inward and became personal.
There is a tendency to get swept up by the crowd. There’s an allure to safety in numbers, especially when there’s so much fear in the world, but we must be extra careful of the dangers of groupthink. Numerous instances in the Bible cite how the crowds went after Jesus and his disciples, and it was a crowd that shouted, “Crucify Him!” (Matthew 27:23).
But Jesus modeled how best to handle a crowd—by looking at the individual. We must be intentional about not seeing people as objects or obstacles and need to realize that they each have their own backstory with hurts and fears. They, too, are in need of a savior and forgiveness, same as us.
“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.” – Exodus 23:2
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