Saturday, September 8, 2012

Backstory, and what to do with it

I really need to work on updating this blog more often. I know I say that, but the actual act of doing so, that's an entirely different story. Also, please bare with me for this post, it's midnight, and I know that if I don't write this now, I never will.

The point of this post though, is to discuss something I've run into as I work on my latest manuscript. (Any guesses as to what number attempt this one is? Hint: I don't even know.)

And this current issue is -- characters: the ones who have known each other forever, and the ones who have just met.

Is it just me, or do they both present their own challenges?

While characters who have known each other have pre-existing relationships, there's the problem of having to convincingly give backstory to the readers. As for the characters who have just met, it's easy to provide backstory as the characters get to know each other. With them, however, there's the needed effort of building a convincing relationship. (Whether it be romantic, platonic, or full of hate.)

As I've been writing, I've found that my weakness here is providing backstory for characters who already know each other. What I've noticed is that if Bob and Jim are just getting to know each other, they can tell each other about themselves, and in turn, tell the reader. Not so if Bob and Jim have known each other forever. Honestly, do you go up to your best friend and remind them of the number of siblings you have and how they have affected your personality? Most likely not.

So this is the point where we, as writers, must come up with creative ways to reveal Jim and Bob's backgrounds to the reader without taking advantage of the dreaded "info-dump." (Makes you sick just thinking about it, doesn't it?) There are surely countless possibilities, but it's mostly a matter of figuring out what they are, and which ones fit into the story.

Add a little bit of information explaining a relationship a character has with an object or location? Doable, I think, or at least I'm pretty sure I've employed this method successfully in my previous manuscript. How about, bringing in the side character who needs to be brought up to speed? Sometimes considered a cop out, but I think could be executed well. Or my new personal favorite, which I'm sure I can only pull off once, is to have a character tell his story under the guise of a bedtime story. I came up with that one in the shower, and given the plot, I think it will work.

But why is this necessary? Why must we have backstory? Why can't we get right to the action? The here and now. The story arc that will make the reader pick up the book and shell out the cash to buy it in the store.

Because we want to believe these characters are real. That has got to be such an important point. If we, as readers, don't believe that the characters are real, how can we relate to it? How can we, even for the briefest moment, convince ourselves that this story could have happened somewhere to someone at some point? Real people have histories. Real, well-rounded characters have histories. They are what shape Bob and Jim, and every person they have ever come into contact with.

So to conclude this post, I bring up the methods of bringing in the backstory once again. I think if we remember why it's important, maybe it will be easier. There's just a few things to remember, such as that no one wants to read a long, boring, word-heavy info-dump. Especially the ones that make no sense. (Remember how Bob already knows how many sibling Jim has, and doesn't need Jim to remind him over coffee the next day. Unless, of course, for emphasis to a point Jim is making... hey, there's another method right there!)

No info dumping.
Subtlety.
Creative.
Natural.
What are your suggestions?

1 comment:

  1. How about employing a third character? Jim and Bob aren't going to talk about their own backstories to each other. However, Jim might tell another character something he knows about his good friend Bob.

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