The character's name is Hijiki. He and his water elemental business partner, Fluidity of Truth, scavenged shipwrecks and other sources of undersea wealth... and then Hijiki became one of the Solar Exalted. Other than a character sheet (which, for an Exalted character, includes some backgroundy stuff like Motivation - which for Hijiki was "To uncover the lost secrets of the First Age and spread them across Creation.") and what he was doing immediately before the beginning of game (which sort of took the form of a kicker involving pirates and a sunken golden sarcophagus), that's essentially all the background that I had coming in to the game.
The GM wanted more. I asked her why, and I got two primary reasons (1) to find out more about what sorts of things I'd be interested in and (2) to give her some background material to work with in tying the characters and campaign together. (2) was a more compelling reason (to me) than (1) was - I was enjoying the game as it was going... and I'd already given her a list of things I was interested in: discovering undersea wealth and legends, uncovering lost secrets, and exploring the relationship with Fluidity of Truth.
I supposed, though, that I could flesh that out a bit. What about the relationship did I want to explore? Why was I in the business I was in? I really didn't want the character tied down with family, but I suppose I should define it. Perhaps I can give some depth to the reasoning behind why he was chosen specifically as an Eclipse Caste (who are normally emissaries, diplomats, travelers, and merchants). In the meantime, I could come up with some cool background elements.
Here is what I came up with:
Hijiki grew up on Seaflower, a small island West of the Neck. Seaflower was so named for its major claim to fame, a potent liquor made from the fermented petals of a Wyld-touched species of flowering surface kelp.
The people of Seaflower would regularly travel out to the edge of the Wyld to collect the flowers. The population of the island was small, and mostly centered around the port, where the flower-harvester, Seaflower exporters, and taverns all did business.
Hijiki's father was a Seaflower addict. It happened to some people, particularly those who had been long-exposed to the flower in its raw state. He practically lived in the seaside taverns, spending his days and nights in a strange sort of reverie. He'd tell fantastic stories that he had no right to know. Some of these were found to be true. This was a side effect of Seaflower addiction. It is said that a passing knowledge of legends come to those who drink of the Seaflower... and, indeed, in taverns where the Seaflower flows, so do stories.
Hijiki never knew his mother, and his father was rarely attentive, though Hijiki
He was learning to be a flower-harvester, travelling out alone toward the Wyld for the first time, when he met Fluidity of Truth. The two spoke for a while. Fluidity of Truth seemed interested in one of the stories he had learned from his father, the tale of an island that had sunk beneath the waves, maybe half a week away from Seaflower. The next week, Fluidity of Truth reappeared. The island was there, he said, not more than 100 feet below the surface. The two of them set out to explore it and recover what they could...
Thus began a partnership that would last some time. Hijiki believes (but hasn't proven - and FoT is quiet on the issue) that Fluidity of Truth didn't happen upon him by accident... that he wanted to divert him (and him specifically) from a career as a flower-harvester. He isn't sure why, though... always loved listening to his stories and retained far more of their content than his father ever did. Other islanders kept an eye on him, but he largely raised himself. He'd often travel from household to household on the island, gathering what he could from one family's goodwill and leaving before he wore out his welcome.
It is not too long. It introduces a couple of plot hooks (whatever happened to his mother? what is the deal with Seaflower and legends? is there something Fluidity of Truth is keeping from him?) and some potentially cool general background (Seaflower: the island, plant, and liquor) without defining much about the character that I'd be likely to violate in play (which was a concern). A few things in the background were specifically written to explain some of the choices he's made so far in the game... and to provide me with the basis for consistency in playing the character.