Click the image to explore the Disaster Crimes series.

NOTICE:


DISCLOSURE:

This site uses affiliate links for Bookshop.org, an online marketplace that supports independent bookstores. Chrys Fey will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

July 29, 2014

Writing About: A Character’s Past Life


In one of my unpublished works I tackled one of my heroine’s past lives and it was an amazing experience. I loved showing her in a different light and used her past life to explain things (such as relationships) in her current life.



There are many ways to go about writing a character’s past life (aka reincarnation), so I’m going to give you a list of things to keep in mind or to try.


1.    You should establish a current life for your character before you explore his/her past life (or lives). It’s the only way to make their past life significant.

2.    Your character’s past life should be different from their current life. My heroine was a foster child and widely hated, but in her past life she had a happy home with a biological parent and was loved by everyone.

3.    Use your character’s past life as a way to provide explanations to why his/her current life is the way it is.

4.    Introduce your other characters in different roles in your MC’s past life. This was fun for me to do because I got to change up the relationships and deviate from the norm awhile.

5.    Give your character a slightly different personality. A past life changes everything, including peoples' personalities, so try giving your character a quality they don’t possess in their current life.

In my book, my heroine is a tough crime fighter. In her past life, she’s more gentle. There’s even a moment when she confesses she could never be a kickass woman. 

Image by Chrys Fey.

6.    Change your character’s appearance. Even if you don’t want to drastically change his/her race or gender, even if you want him/her exactly the same, you could still mix things up. Maybe you can give your character a different hair color. If he/she is normally pale, give him/her a tan. The little things count.

7.    Let your character do things he/she would never do in their current life. This gives you the opportunity to have fun! My heroine wore jeans, t-shirts and boots religiously, but in her past life she was girly and wore short skirts.

8.    Add symbolism to your character’s past life. I had fun slipping clues into my story and couldn’t stop myself from wondering if readers would catch it and link it to my heroine’s current life. 

You can use the past life as the integral part of a story line or you can try one of these options:

9.    Use the past life as a prologue before start your character’s story in his/her current lifetime.

10.     Bring the past life into play half-way through the story. Doing this will let you use the past life to change your MC’s current life, which could influence the end of the story.

There are many ways you can introduce a past life into your book. You can do it as a dream, vision or have your character actually go back in time.

As I always say . . . It’s your book, it’s up to you!


QUESTIONS: Do you believe in past lives (reincarnation)?
If you do, what do you think you were in your past life (or lives)?


37 comments:

Pat Hatt said...

You can pretty much go anywhere with past lives. Not sure I believe in them, open to them though. But all energy has to go somewhere, so you never know

Sarah Foster said...

I've never tried writing about past lives. It seems like it would be an interesting topic to explore.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't believe in past lives but I think you can use a lot of those things to bring a division to a character's current life.

Loni Townsend said...

Past life as in reincarnation? Or life before the story starts?

Lisa Thomson said...

I love these ideas, Chrys. I begin my novel with my MC's past as a young child. Then flash forward to today. Flash backs provide the plot development (I hope) and reasons why she is who she is...then she actually travels back to her past life. I will definitely use some of these tips as I'm still writing this novel. Actually, it's been on the shelf for too long and I'm taking a break from blogging so I can continue working on it. Great post!

Chrys Fey said...

A past life offers limitless plot lines for stories. And it's good that you're open to them. Being open-minded about things you don't know about or may not believe in is the best thing you can do. :)

Chrys Fey said...

It's a very interesting topic. :)

Chrys Fey said...

You can certainly use a past life to bring division to a character's current life, and even to their personality.

Chrys Fey said...

As in reincarnation.

Chrys Fey said...

Wow! What you did for your novel, Lisa, will definitely give a reader a lot of insight into your character. I hope my post inspires you to work on it again. It sounds too good to be sitting on the shelf. :)

Carrie-Anne said...

I definitely have past life memories, and have had many past life dreams. At age three, I had nightly nightmares which I later, when the dreams came back at age fifteen, realized were Krystallnacht and a concentration-camp. I had so many past life dreams when I was fifteen, and frequently continued to have through the rest of my teens and early twenties. A number of these dreams featured xenoglossy, fluent knowledge of a language one doesn't possess in the normal state. In the dreams, I spoke and understood German and Polish perfectly. I also did a number of my own regression meditations to discover more information.

I've long wanted to write a memoir about my life as Oda Estermann. I already had a number of freeverse poems, including one which won third-place honorable mention in the junior class division of a poetry contest at my second high school. I started writing a memoir some years back, but I didn't stay with it long. Now I think it might be perfect as a novel in verse.

My memories of a life during the Shoah aren't unique. The wonderful New Age/Breslov Rabbi Yonassan Gershom has written several books about the phenomenon of people with past life memories, dreams, and issues stemming from having lived and/or died during the Shoah. I believe I survived, but died about 1953 in Australia. People who claim everyone with past life memories is a kook or only claims to be someone famous like Cleopatra is so far off from the truth it's insulting. Most people remember ordinary lives, as ordinary people, in ordinary times. Now that I've reclaimed my spiritual birthright and resolved other issues, I don't dream of Oda very much anymore. One of my rabbis suggested that's because I don't really need her to help me now.

Robin said...

A long time ago, before I actually started writing novels, I had a story idea that would have involved past lives. Interestingly enough, someone else wrote that book and I discarded the idea. Funny how that works... if you don't write it, someone else will!

I do believe in past lives and I think that they are very different from our current ones. What is the point if we aren't here to experience all manner of NEW things? I think it is about growing our soul, which isn't going to happen if every life is the SAME.

Good stuff!

Unknown said...

This is something that I never even thought about! I think the idea of a character having a past life is intriguing. I think I'd have my character experience lots of deja vu moments before dropping the ax on him/her. Great post!

Chrys Fey said...

Deja Vu moments are a brilliant idea! It adds mystery. :)

Chrys Fey said...

There have been times when I've gotten the idea for a story or song, and a year later I encounter a story or song just like the one I thought of. I've always believed that if you don't take the idea, or do something about it quickly, it goes back out into the universe and then it's up for grabs to anyone.

I think we've been all sexes and races in our past lives. And that we've been all different things, from rich to poor.

Thank for for contributing to my discussion, Robin!

Chrys Fey said...

That is fascinating, Carrie-Anne! Wow! I wish I had memories and dreams about my past lives. When I was growing up though, there were times when I would tell my mom, "I think I was alive in the 60-70's as an adult." I seemed connected to that era, the music, the people, everything. I always said I thought I died young.

I've also felt that I was a cop in a past life. Maybe even a male cop. I just seem to know much more about police work than I should. It comes second-nature and that's why a lot of my characters are cops. I can't get away from them and I don't want to.

You should write a story about Oda though. I think that would be interesting. And I think your rabbi was right. :)

Lisa Thomson said...

Thanks for the inspiration :)

Optimistic Existentialist said...

Hello Chrys! I love reading about a character's past life...it gives the reader a more complete picture about what made her or him the person they are...

Chrys Fey said...

So do I! And you're right, it does. :)

Loni Townsend said...

I haven't written about past lives, but I've written down snippets of my character reincarnating as someone new. Actually, it's an island filled with people who I've killed off through my writing. Instead of ruling a nation, one guy runs a hotel. Instead of being an all-powerful menace, another guy is a single dad who works 2 jobs. The past lives are in the actual novels, and it's the new life that's the potential story.

Does that count?

Denise Covey said...

I'm not into reincarnation, but I know that spiritually, memories are passed down through generations. I have a strong bond with France and always feel at home there, more than in Australia. I thought this was weird until I found out that I have ancestors from there...

So my current WIP needed a lot of backstory woven in, and this has been a challenge, but so worth it to understand the present motivations.

Hope all goes well, Chrys.

Denise

Kelly Hashway said...

What an awesome topic! I love it, Chrys.

Slamdunk said...

That would be a challenge for me to write about since it is beyond what I believe. I do like those sorts of writing experiences those as it forces me to be creative, conduct research, and then work outside my comfort area.

Anonymous said...

I've read a lot of non-fiction on past lives, but I'm not sure I believe in it. I do like seeing it in fiction and these are great tips.

Unknown said...

Interesting post, Chrys. I never thought about giving one of my main character's a past life. I guess it is because I really don't believe in reincarnation.
But then again, that doesn't necessarily handicap me from exploring this idea. The more I think about it, the more exciting it would be for one of my character's to reflect off of their past life. I imagine writing like this would be a lot of fun=)

Chrys Fey said...

That's neat, Denise! I've always felt a connection to Ireland, although no one in my family is Irish, I wonder if any of my ancestors lived there.

Thanks for contributing to my discussion, Denise! And thank you, I hope all is going well with you, too. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, Kelly!

Chrys Fey said...

I've written about a couple of things I don't exactly believe in and that's what made it interesting, because I had to make it seem believable. Thank you for contributing to my discussion! :)

Chrys Fey said...

I also like seeing it in fiction. Thank you, Medeia! And thank you for answering my question. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Exactly, Gina! Not believing in reincarnation doesn't mean you can't add a character's past life into a story. It is fun! I had a blast changing my character and linking her past life to her current life. You can really get creative. :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I don't believe in reincarnation but I've read some good books where characters have past lives. Sounds like fun to write.

Chrys Fey said...

I like it that when people say they don't believe in reincarnation but are open to reading books about characters with past lives, and even writing about it. :)

Crystal Collier said...

I don't ever write about reincarnation, but I do have a story with dimensions and there's an alternate but slightly different self in ever dimension. You can get into all kinds of trouble with people running into themselves or not being the right person in any given dimension.

Chrys Fey said...

I've played with alternate realities in one of my ancient stories, and it is a lot like a past life because you get to alter her characters and their life so much.

Mm said...

Sounds like me with soldiers and submarines :)

Patricia said...

This site is just what I need. I am writing a book on reincarnation and am focusing on several of my main lives, trying to develop the descriptions and stories. Glad to know I'm not alone.

Tinthia Clemant said...

I've been toying with a reincarnation story for a while now. Each time I sit down to write I get hung up on the mechanics of reincarnation instead of letting the story flow and having fun. Your list helped a great deal. Thank you, Tinthia Clemant