Creating a great portrait depends largely on the background. The photographer must stage the frame in a way that accentuates, and not distracts from, the subject.
So, since I don't always access to a beautiful backdrop like this lovely courtyard garden at the American Art Museum...
...I must create interesting backgrounds.
I unfortunately don't have many painted walls with adequate natural light in my apartment. So, I hung up a piece of Martha Stewart wrapping paper (she has some beautiful patterns and prints). Works pretty well, I think! I can't claim this idea as my own though; I saw another photographer do this on Flickr.
...and not the greatest capture of L (she was quite tired), but it displays the backdrop well.