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lynnmosher

Backstory: Yes Or No?

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For me, Backstory helps to flesh out characters and give them personality in my stories. I agree with keeping backstories in the background if they aren't a direct part of the story at hand, but they do help to color characters and their decisions.

It gives a certain depth to things in my mind. Why does this character do this or think this way? How would they act in this particular situation and have they encountered it before?

I personally like dabbling in character building a lot. That is one reason I have so many, most of whom will probably not see the light of day in story form.

For others that may not be the case, a character may be just who they are in the story with no background needed.

 

I believe it all comes down to the type of Author. Tolkien may have spent all his time world building, but it seems like that was his joy. It gives a certain richness to the stories he did publish. I find a lot of fun in dabbling in the details where another may not.

 

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Somewhere there is a balance between enough and too-much backstory. I agree that a story needs to start somewhere in the midst of the mess to attract the reader. (Maybe readers 50 years ago didn't need that hook, but today they do.)

 

Personally, I am not likely to read a story if there is more background than story in the first few pages. Get me into it, and then give me (in bits and pieces) the info I need to understand the character and the conflict. Yes, I need to understand both, but not in long-winded detail.

 

Anyway, I thought it was a good article. Thank you, Lynn.

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Thanks for sharing this; it's a very interesting read and spot on. I've learned a new term, too, "in media res." I've had the concept in my head and thought of it as "where the good stuff starts to happen," but didn't know that it has a name!

 

I do find it takes a lot of thought to work out where to actually begin a story. When I'm having a hard time, I'll get out pen and paper and draw a timeline and put down all the events relevant to the story. Then I'll highlight what I'll include in the narrative and what will be in the backstory. That really helps me figure out where I should start page one.

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Backstory is very important for adding depth to characters! It's structure is very much like a road your story travels upon, the pavement if you will, something that makes the journey possible, but also something that shouldn't be noticed.

 

If your backstory takes over the present plot line it could be an indication you have enough material for two stories. Don't waste your great ideas! Fold them into a prequel or a completely different story! Prolific authors do this all the time! 

 

Although you SHOULD know everything there is to know about your characters it is not necessary for your readers. Best advice I received on backstory is to never add details that doesn't advance the plot, and it frankly took years and many ripped manuscripts to figure this one out, but it's worth the effort to learn how to add tidbits in descriptions, snippets of intersection, effective dialogue exchange that advances the plot and adds background detail. 

 

The best way to learn background is to study the work of authors you admire in the genre you wish to write. Get a highlighter or several different color highlighters and take note of the subtle background structure for each character. Writing is no different from any other craft you have to study and practice to perfect! ?

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Everything that happens is backstory to the next event.  Even the 'in media res' event is useless unless I build upon it and use it to explain the rest of the story.  

Plot is the determiner of relevance.  Trajectory. Forward motion toward a spectacular climax that changes my reader's heart or mind.  The light at the end of the tunnel that might still be a train. 

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I agree with the majority of the article, especially info dumping and understatement increases interests. Unless it's something that needs to be explained for the story, simply mentioning a minor detail in passing will often be enough. If a reader gets lost, they can go back and search to see if the continuity is intact. 

 

The one major part I disagree with is backstory is for characters, not writers. Actually, the backstory is for writers to know their characters. A backstory is so writers can write more believable and distinct characters. So it's for novelists so they can write the main story. It's true that some of those details may not come up in the story but they may. 

 

That being said, the last point is important, especially for novelists who write in series or a specific universe. Fantasy world building is important but you don't want to fall into the trap of continually writing the backstory and not writing the story. World building paralysis. 

 

Good article overall. Lots of good points here.

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My view is that, properly done, back story building for both world and characters is something that should be done.  World building as a whole helps readers to invest themselves more heavily in the world.  I believe that a vast amount of back story details and history can make a fictional world seem more real, like something that had existed for years, or even generations, beforehand, and they are viewing events through an exclusive window.  Also, that this view is just a segment of history in a world that will continue to go on existing even after the book is finished.  My thought is that this is one of the reasons for the longevity of the Lord of the Rings and associated books. 

I have spoken to a variety of Tolkien fans who could go on, some for hours, about the history of Middle Earth.  These same people could probably then go on about where they think events in the book would lead to after the departure of the Elves and the diminishing of the Dwarves.  To a certain extent, it gives the story a sense of immortality that will continue to live on after many other, even newer, books had been forgotten.

 

I think what it comes down to, is the concentration of the backstory.  I do agree with the article on the points where the writer talked about, essentially, not overwhelming the reader with details lumped into a huge pile that can bury the narrative.  Admittedly, I have a more Tolkienesque route for my style.  I have a vast amount of lore for Drifters, and do have enough to where I intend to write a prequel historical series, as well as a few smaller stand-alone books.  As excited as I am about everything that's in the lore, I could nearly write a book containing nothing but brief summaries of the lore from start to finish.  I've had to quickly learn how to include just enough information about pieces of lore that it adds context to the story without overwhelming it.

 

And speaking of overwhelming, I think I'll stop here before I end up doing it to the topic.

Edited by TDDracken
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Guest Steven Hutson

Every story needs a context, and not everything can be explained within the story itself.

Every character has a history.
Every murder scene has secrets.
Every romance has unspoken details.

Gotta have backstory. Just don't let it take over the story at hand.

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On 10/27/2018 at 12:24 PM, suspensewriter said:

Well, I write backstory as I go along- to flesh out the characters as I see fit.

Is it still back story? I probably don't have as much experience to draw from, but it seems to me using backstory is a fast way to lose a reader.

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Backstory should be like an iceberg, according to Hemingway. Most of it should be under the surface of the water. 

 

Jake's wound in The Sun Also Rises is a good illustration of this. I  don't need to know the specifics of it to realize how he feels about it, how it affects the people around him and colors his relationships with them.

 

By the same token, both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings  are better stories than The Silmarilon, though the last is backstory to the others.

 

A good backstory is worth writing, but will probably end up being edited out. Fear not! It may make a good short story or a novel in it's own right.

 

 

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I like back stories, but only if they turn a good story into a homerun. In my opinion they can often put teeth into a yarn, turn it into a personal experience for the reader. A late writing  instructor once told me to write the story that turns me on. Only after I've done my best work should go find an editor. I've tried to follow this advice and I have CDs and flash drives filled with tales that didn't make it. Sometimes I go through these slush with a new attitude and fresh eyes and take another shot at it.

 

Writing the story for an editor is like pounding the street for a newspaper. A sweet dream that became a job.

 

 

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Guest Steven Hutson

If THE BRADY BUNCH was just about a couple with six kids, it wouldn't be half as interesting. The point is that they blended the family.

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Steven,

 

I think you are right about the Brady Bunch story. I hesitated to point out a movie of which I can't recall the name. It was a reflection on a an American bomber wing flying out of England during WWII. Except for ten minutes at the beginning and another ten at the end it was back story.

 

 

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Another means of back story or summary, whichever fits is a four-line verse at the beginning or the end, whichever fits the occasion. Sometimes it offers a different slant. I'm not very skilled at this, but I certainly enjoy the efforts of those who are.  :-)

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Years ago, the Lord gave me a full movie in a dream. Writing it out is not my forte. But I mention it to say this: the whole premise of the story was backstory. The history of something being passed down through generations with a surprise ending. So without the backstory or history, there was no story. It would make a great movie! ;)

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Images like:

 

Microgravity gymnastics

Illusion corridors from Willy       

Wonka.

Roman centurions in zeppelins.

Thundersnow.

Popeye in Tropical Dress Whites(his calves are enormous!)

Zaccheus at the Crucifixion.

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18 hours ago, carolinamtne said:

Now that would make a story. Which way would he go?

He'd climb the tree. 

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