by Jacob

Steal This: Background Generator

Along with this Steal This article comes a really sad announcement: We’re discontinuing the Steal This series.  We’re not fully discontinuing it, though.  We will probably put up a new one every once in a while, but we’re also asking for your help.  If ANY of you has an idea that you’d like to share with the world, we’ll be willing to post your Steal This article for you.  Just email the idea to [email protected], and we’ll talk about getting your own articles up.

There are two main reasons that we’re not going to keep up on the Steal This series.  The first is that our ideas have gotten pretty forced.  It takes a fair bit of work to come up with something new and interesting weekly.  The second reason is time.  Delos and I have gotten more busy in recent months, with him having a new child and more work, and I having more personal projects on my plate than I know what to do with.  I personally have gotten to the point where I just barely get my articles written in time to be published.  Delos and I used to be over a month ahead.  So we’re cutting back.

Onto the Show

This week, I’m going to present a surprisingly powerful and easy way to come up with background information for a character.  All you need is a ton of tiny slips of paper with words or mini phrases.  For example:

  • Wait
  • Dream
  • Dragon
  • Horn
  • Fire
  • Interpreter
  • Hollow
  • Gold
  • Mountain
  • Tyrant
  • Kicked Out

And that’s a tiny portion of the slips I have in my collection, most of which I came up with on the fly when I was creating the list.

How Do I Use Them?

I pull three slips of paper out to get three key words/phrases.  Then I come up with stories that have to do with that word.  The real trick is to think outside the box.  Say you had the word “Moon”.  The moon doesn’t have to directly apply to the story.  It could have something to do with the tide, or the night sky in general.  Or maybe someone mooned someone.

You can combine two of the words into one story, but I’d advise not using more than two, at least without drawing more out to make more stories.  And try to make those stories meaningful.


Let’s say I’m making a modern character and I draw Music, Love, and Throne.  His three stories could be…

  • When the character was young, he read a lot of romantic novels (the non-dirty kind).  He so badly wanted love that he would embarrass himself completely in attempts to ask girls out, only to be rejected time and again.
  • Years later, after never having any luck in love, the character found himself at a movie theatre, watching an action flick.  There was a part during the movie when someone was delivering an inspirational speech.  The music cut out right as the final, really inspirational line was delivered: “<insert inspirational statement that drives the character even years later>”.  It changed the character’s life forever.
  • Having been inspired, he worked hard in everything he did, working his way to the top of the company he worked for.  Eventually, the CEO retired and filled the roll with the character.  He calls his office the Throne Room and his chair the Throne.  He now feels there’s nothing he can’t accomplish. (except maybe get a girl who isn’t just in it for the money)

You can get a few ideas about how this character thinks or acts thanks to these stories, as well as providing a reason why.


This background ‘generator’ system is a little bit weak compared to some, but once you have the slips of paper handy, it gets easy to come up with a character with a little bit of background and character.  I’ve used it a few times, and it’s a good lifesaver, especially when you’re drawing a blank for ideas due to the complete openness of possibilities otherwise.

New to Steal This…?

If you’re new to the Steal This… series, go to the Steal This… manifesto and archives to find out what it’s about or to see the other Steal This… articles.

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