Monday, January 14, 2013

The (Dreaded) Backstory

Okay, so sometimes I know the history of my characters. Sometimes I don't. That makes for some awkwardness at critique group when I get asked questions I can't answer. 

That's been happening a lot lately, so I sat down this week and actually took notes. (Pick your jaw up -- it's been known to happen!) I discovered that it's the backstory that provides a lot of the little details that make the stories I like so memorable. It's what happened before the story starts that intrigues me, that I want to know more about, that I want to see the main character overcome in the story.

This might not be revelatory to you, but it was to me. I mean, I've known about backstory and sprinkling it here and there and that your main character needs to have a past they draw from to make future decisions. I've known it, but I'm not sure I've ever internalized it.

So as I've been working on this revision, I've really been trying to nail down the details of the past for my main character. I want them to be a whole person who has conflicts and brings baggage from their history into the pages I'm working on. I want to add those memorable details to create the kind of book I like to read.

So I'm thinking more and more about backstory and taking notes on my main character and using that history to round out the divots in my plot and character arc.

What are you working to improve in your writing right now?

25 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

I'm trying to move along on my first draft. I once had a critique with Cheryl Klein at Scholastic and she asked me a lot of questions regarding my villain that got me thinking of his backstory and it added a whole new layer to my story.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Before I write the first draft, before I even write the outline, I sit down and figure out the backstories to all my key characters. I just write whatever comes to me. My characters seem to guide me. Most of it doesn't make it into my books, but it's helps me know why my characters do what they do and react the way they react.

JeffO said...

It's funny, in my writer's circle I tend to write little vignettes and story fragments where I know very little about my characters. I'm always ask me about them, too: how old is she? Why is he in a bar at 11 in the morning? A lot of times, I can't answer, or have only the vaguest of notions of who these people are. That sort of thing comes with time, and these are not pieces that develop much further.

If, however, I end up deciding to expand one of these bits into a full short story or (gasp) novel, I end up learning much more about these people as I go. But for me, it comes about more through the writing and less through planning.

SA Larsenッ said...

It's funny how backstory is where it is, yet we're meant to keep most of it out of the actually book. I think backstory is more for us, the writers, so we can see and feel and hear our characters better.

I'm working on being more of a planner. And just so you know...I SUCK AT IT!! I'm stumped at the outline. Garf!!!

Angela Brown said...

Yes...the dreaded backstory. But without it, we lack the ability to truly make our characters the fully three-dimensional beings we want them to become.

Liesel K Hill said...

Great points about back story! Even if the reader doesn't ever see it all, they feel it in the way it makes your characters more 3-D. Currently I'm editing my manuscript, specifically working on descriptive details and pacing. Wish me luck! :D

mshatch said...

I often write out my main characters' back stories or I'll answer a bunch of questions I got from Wordplay's Crafting Unforgettable Characters which I have found exceedingly helpful.

The hard part of course is incorporating the back story without it being obvious.

Becca said...

Some of my characters, I develop so much backstory for, that I end up focusing on that rather than the story. Then I get frustrated when I can't figure out a way to explain any of it in the story itself.

I'm still working on finding that balance.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I work on the backstory and details of my characters before I even outline the story.
And working on whether I will continue writing after my third book or pursue music instead.

Jaime Morrow said...

I'm actually struggling with backstory right now. Mainly, making sure it doesn't come across as an info-dump. That's what I'll be tackling today, since I've been told that the front end of my WIP is a little info-dumpy. O_o

ilima said...

I think I'm guilty of not internalizing the backstory, also. This week I'm working on more unique descriptions/metaphors as I go through my WIP.

Hannah Kincade said...

Writing backstories is my favorite!!! I put a lot into it, sometimes more than I should. LOL.

I'm having an Occam's Razor with my WIP. Now to find the time and get my thoughts on the page!

Southpaw said...

I'm mostly just trying to get back in the saddle - so to speak! :)

Patti said...

I always seem to working on the emotional side of my characters.

Barbara Watson said...

Love this, Elana. I'm there too. Sometimes I wonder, if it's not going to be IN my story, do I actually need to know it? Like you, I'm coming to realize that, yes, I do.

Matthew MacNish said...

I think the best stories are made up of more than never makes it on the page than what does.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Backstory is important - but sometimes it feels like I have too much! I try not to include most of it in the story itself, just keep it for private knowledge, but then it can be hard to know when something is too confusing. Maybe someday I'll figure out the balance. :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Elana, I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't always know the backstory of my characters. Sometimes, characters reveal things halfway into the first draft (or even in the second or third draft) and I say to them: "Why the heck didn't you tell me that earlier?!"

Jemi Fraser said...

With this past story I've been working on doing a little, tiny bit of plotting - writing bullet notes about characters and their backstory before I started the story. I keep going back and changing stuff, but I like it!

Nicole said...

I've been working on nailing my dialogue, and it's going really well!

LD Masterson said...

I love writing my characters' backstories. For me, the hard part is deciding how much of it needs to go into the book.

Jen Daiker said...

I'm happy to know that I'm not the only one who leaves those groups eyes wide and gut wrenched for not having the proper answers.

That being said I just spoke with my editor and the Middle Grade tale I've written had to be reworked. I'm happy to say that was completed yesterday so on to the tense issues! FUN....

Donna K. Weaver said...

When I prepared for my Camp NaNo project last August I prepared some psychological profiles for the main characters. It was the first time I'd used this particular form, and I loved it. It made me think about some things that provided what I needed when I wrote to story as far as motivations and backstory.

Jessie Humphries said...

My first round of revisions with Sarah revolved almost entirely on firming up my characters backstory. I actually loved it!

aryan tan said...

I write the first and the ending of it then I go backward and put other things in between. It's pretty easy with short stories I guess it won't be in novels :)

nice article my first time to drop by here and I like it:)

http://aryanqqu.blogspot.com/

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