One Writer’s Journey

March 12, 2015

Backstory: You Need to Know More than the Reader

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am
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Whether you are writing a picture book or a novel, you need to know more about your characters than you ever plan to reveal to your readers.  It may seem like needless work to figure something out that will never appear in your story, but these bits of backstory inform your story.

Let me explain.  You are writing a novel.  A vital secondary character commits suicide.  It happens off screen.   The novel is about how the characters react.  But you don’t know exactly why the character killed herself. That’s a big problem.

Think about Thirteen Reasons Why by James Asher.  Hannah Baker commits suicide but before she does she records tapes explaining the thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life.  One of them involves the date rape of another student at their school.  Obviously, these are reasons that are going to bring a lot of guilt for those left behind.

That’s going to make for a completely different book than if she committed suicide because she couldn’t face another round of cancer treatments.  Or because she had stolen the money that was supposed to help a classmate buy a new wheelchair so that she could use the money to buy meth.

Even if you don’t tell the reader why the character commited suicide, you have to know because the reason will impact how other characters, characters who do know the reason, react.

Backstory shapes the way that all of our characters behave.  Know what happened in the background so that you can create a story that is contistent and fluid.  Your characters’ reactions will be more believable because they will all be reacting to a specific set of events known to you, the author.  It is then up to you to bring these reactions to life and tell their story.



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