Hi everyone! Thank you for coming back. Yesterday’s entry started the blogfest on an unsteady foot, I didn’t expect to get so technical with all the English composition. Eek! :0/
Moving forward I look forward to being a bit more easy-going with the entries. This blog is meant to be an open forum for writers. For me, that means talking candidly about the real life experiences that stem from that journey.
And today is day two: B is for Back-Story.
Back-story is the history of your character, from hero to villain to sidekick. It’s the background, all the facts about a fictional person that the reader doesn’t know yet, and the writer needs to convey. Needless to say crafting a fluid back-story can get tricky.
Let's create a basic heroine to stand as our example. Say our girl has raven-black hair, brown eyes, grew up in the Bronx, likes ketchup on her macaroni and cheese, has a cat named Fluffy...
Okay, let’s stop right here. Before we bring Fluffy into the fictional fray, we have to recognize that this is our character’s life. There are a million particulars that we-the-writer know about our heroine but dispensing that information requires a delicate hand. The goal of all writing is to suspend disbelief and make the story engaging. Information delivered too fast or in a lump runs the risk of severing the connection of the reader to the characters, which is the opposite of your goal.
This pitfall involving back-story is what a lot of editors call the “Info Dump.” The info dump is when we-the-reader are following the character through the initial chapters, rolling along with their exploits when wham! The hero/ine suddenly launches into a mental monologue that summarizes their whole life. They drop all their info on us in a matter of paragraphs, burying the reader in a heap of outlined facts.
You may have picked up on this in novels you've read in the past. Along with the resulting, whoa, where did all THAT come from? afteraffect.
All writers are guilty of penning an info dump at some point, me included. I assure you that the backing up of the truck is not intentional; it’s just in result to wanting to present your character to the reader. The challenge of the writer is to describe the dynamics of their main character. And the information being relayed is important, it's just equally important to make that introduction believable without giving too much away in jarring lumps of raw data.
It helps when I think of it like this:
How would you write the back-story of your life?
What would bring about those recollections of the past? Would you walk around thinking, I was born on a warm, spring day in a small town north of the Shenandoah valley…
Real memories wouldn't come out in a long spiel; more likely, they’d bubble up in little mental spurts. And the person would need a reason to reminisce. Maybe they'd see an object that in turn sparks off a remembrance of something long-ago, a memory that leads the mind to wonder...and so the history is disclosed.
The same processes goes for your characters. They need personal “triggers,” something that gets them thinking about their past; a real situation that allows them to reveal their back-story in little pieces.
Maybe the heroine is an independently wealthy debutante who loves to shop. Happily buzzing around the mall she stops in front of a window display, a blue silk scarf like the ones her mother used to wear catching her eye, pulling her back to the time before her parents divorced…
Take a hard-as-nails construction foreman who walks with a limp. When a co-worker calls in sick, he’s asked to work one of the large bulldozers. His outward bravado drains from him as he freezes in front of the metal monster, immobilized with fear. He hadn’t stepped foot near one of those machines since the day of the accident…
Dispense the facts on your fictional people but keep it intriguing. A reader can’t wonder about what they already know, so leave a bread crumb trail for them to follow. A little mystique goes a long way.
Kind of like baking a cake, you can fold in the nuances of your characters past step by step. Let your hero/ine have secrets that are hinted at by the way s/he behaves. Try to pace it, and hold out on uncovering your characters epic qualities until at least the middle of the story.
You also want to maintain separate points of view for each individual character. Plug yourself into their sneakers, boots or stilettos every time you’re writing from their head. Keep a separate journal of facts to pull out when you’re writing to remain in touch with that character’s distinct perspective (don't lose Fluffy). Hint at your characters hidden traits and let those nuances be revealed over time. Then the reader will feel like they’re getting to know a real person.
It’s funny; the best back-stories I’ve ever read are always difficult to point out, I think that's a sign that they’re good. They’re written so seamlessly it’s almost like the structure of the back-story is invisible. We-the-reader are in the characters head, tagging along for the ride with no bumps on the road to break the connection. You are there with the character with no questions. That’s how you want your back story to read, too.
And I’ll leave you with a small challenge. Walk over to your bookshelf sometime this week and find a novel with a solid back-story, one so good that you really have to look to "see" it. Ask yourself what aspects of the writing made it so believable? What is it that makes the hero’s past easy to understand?
And if you’re so inclined, please reply to this entry and tell me about it.
Good writers are good readers and I’d love to hear your feedback and book suggestions. :0)
So this ends day two of the A to Z Blogging Challenge!
Please come back tomorrow for day three – I’ve been looking forward to this one:
C is for Conflict.
Oh boy, this is gonna be fun. *evil grin* See you there.