So, What Did You Do… No, Before That?


Past lives, what do we think of them? My favourite Tibetan Monk, sitting on the edge of a mountain, and dreaming of reincarnating as the voice on the wind. Or, how about the finite misery of the Catholic faith where purgatory sits in the way of heaven and hell. I like the idea of coming back as part of nature, or perhaps even one of the gods.
Anyway, whatever it is that your personal belief system commands you to do, you’ll be glad to know that I’m not going to go into any of that today. What I mean by past lives, in this instance, is what you did before you do what you do now. This is something that I am finding increasingly more insightful when understanding someone better.

I’m becoming more interested in someone’s back story when I get to know them. When you ask someone, ‘What do you do?’ you often get back a scripted answer that rolls off their tongue, but if you ask, ‘what did you do before that?’ that’s when you start to get underneath it all.
Everyone interesting has something they have done before. It’s a component of an experienced and full life and understanding it helps you to understand the person better.
Although I’m sounding a little bit like a CIA agent now, or a pervert perhaps, I mean this in the most innocent way. To be a better writer you need to be able to create characters that are believable and are resonating. The back story is the crucial element into building a deeper character, in understanding their motives and helping the reader to understand them. The same can be said for real-life too.
If you can learn more about real-life people then you will be able to build better characters, but also I think it runs deeper than that. Life isn’t a spectator sport even though as a writer you spend most of your time observing. What’s your back story? If someone asked you, ‘what did you do before that?’ how interesting would your answer be?


4 responses to “So, What Did You Do… No, Before That?

  1. Very nice!! I never think of that. I always just take people at how i meet them in that moment and that’s it. It’s nice to delve a little deeper. Haha my answer, well i’m a bit young to have tooo many back stories, but i will certainly one day i’m sure. You are a great writer! Check out my blog at

  2. Yes, I’m always interested in what people did before now. And I’m much more interested in getting them to talk about themselves, because that way I find out about them and there may be something I can put in a story, and also because then I don’t have to talk about myself. 🙂

  3. Good point…….It’s amazing just how much of the back story influences who and what we are now.Unlike some of your other responders I’ve got quite a long back story……..part of having been hanging around on this planet for a good few years! Mind you our stories start developing from the moment we’re born……..
    Individual life stories are so interesting……..a great fund of information for the writer. So, next time you’re in your favourite coffee shop strike up a conversation with someone, and listen to what comes forth.

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