Hi all! I have a competition going to draw a map on the 15th for a blog post. The map will be hand-drawn, but I will scan it and e-mail it to the winner. If you're interested, please E-mail me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT) com with MAP as the RE.
Then I just want to say hi to all my new bloggy friends. Welcome to my mind. I hope you find something of value in the chaos. ;-)
On with the post...
Back story can be both a blessing and a curse. But I believe it to be vital to any story.
I cannot even begin to conceive where my characters are coming from if I don't know at least the essence of their past. When I draw up characters without scratching around in their past, they come out flat and unnatural.
This makes sense to me, because people without pasts can't be real, can they? And that is what we need our characters to be above all. Real. Authentic.
The same goes for the world that the characters live in. If it doesn't have a history that you are aware of, how are you going to give a sense of depth to the reader? It's going to take a lot more information to make sure that the world doesn't feel like a cardboard diorama. I think this is a bit easier for people who write genres set in our world, but even those genres feel the effect of history.
There must be some reason why investigative protocols are in place. Or why there is a secret room in the house. (Debs, that one's been playing in my mind all day.) Or why the house the heroine lives in was built in the Tudor style.
Writers in genres like fantasy and sci fi have a bit more work involved here. Because we have to invent the history.
That's another important reason why back story is needed. They determine the rules. Almost every single one of them. How are these two characters going to interact, given that they have a long and dark past in common? Depends on their personality, yes, but it also depends on every interaction they had before and the outcomes of said interactions. I will go into rules a bit deeper, later in the Challenge.
So yeah... there's a lot to keep in mind when it comes to back story. But there's one more thing I want to highlight.
Never. Wait I'll say it again.
NEVER dump back story in chunks.
Readers want to go forward, not get stuck in the past. So unless the back story holds the key to understanding what is going on in the now of the story, don't put it in. And if you do, just hint enough of it for the reader to catch the drift.
Nothing quite works as well to stop the momentum as a good lengthy chapter telling the reader what happened.
Note, telling. If you are telling your reader anything, you're not doing your job. Show them by leaving clues to the past. Not the whole enchilada.
You want to leave them feeling as if they know the character and where he/she is coming from. But they don't care about the lengthy part in the middle about the time his/her dog died. So keep it relevant.
Back story is there for the writer to know what's going on and to subtly clue the reader in about why things are as they are. Just because you know every single bit of history affecting the story, does not mean that all of it has to be laid out on the page.
If you know what's going on, you can steer the reader where you want without them having the map.
And that should be the goal when you're plugging back story in the plot.
So... how much time do you spend thinking about back story? Did you think about the history of the world you're writing in? How do you use back story?