In my current obsession with Netflix I’ve been observing character arc and how it is developed. The environment, the time period, the milieu, cultural mores, and the place of a character in society shapes the personality, but then the character is challenged, sometimes to play within the rules, and sometimes to step outside to do the unthinkable. In some ways, the home of the character reflects her soul.
What makes historical novels interesting is the conflict between modern cultural values and those of the time period. Marrying for love was a fairy tale until fairly recently in many cultures. The chivalric love of the middle ages was the fantasy of a loving romance that was impossible due to political circumstances–such romances are doomed, just like Romeo and Juliet, who were, after all, social equals, but of rival families.
The kind of family feud and the idea honor-killing are almost quaint to the modern mind, so we lose the horrific nature of the possibility that people could kill each other because of some act performed in the past that no one really remembers. But then, people go to war to fight about how they worship the same God.
Where does your character live? Apartment? Mansion? shack in the woods?
Why does she live there? What social rules constrain or challenge her?
Does she flout the rules or live circumspectly? Where does she fit into the social strata–and all cultures have some kind of pecking order. If she is at the top, what is required of her. If she is in the middle, what are the constraints on both ends?
How does her soul live within her body? How does her outer life support or strangle her inner life, her needs? Is she aware of her needs, or does she struggle, like some regency maiden to find the physical support she needs to live by marrying or by working to support herself?
The environment limits the choices a character has, what is acceptable to do, what is not, what is required, what is optional. Self-sacrifice is considered noble, but what is the cost to the person, and is it justified?
Answering these questions gives you the character’s backstory and brings the world to life.