Monday, February 16, 2009

Backstory II

Backstory:The Past and Present

The definition of backstory is this: The experiences of a character or the circumstances of an event that occur before the action or narrative of a literary, cinematic, or dramatic work: At rehearsal, the actors developed backstories for their characters.

I’d like to touch more on backstory if I may.

I told you the when and where to use it but I don’t think I said HOW to implement it into the story.

Okay, so your story is moving along and you want to give a morsel of the past to the reader. What you’ll want to do is segue gently into a memory.

As I sit on the front porch, I’m reminded of Martha jumping rope right out front when she was a kid. I can almost hear the scraping of the rope on the ground as the wind blows gently through the trees, shuffling the leaves. Martha and I were best friends but this one time, we didn’t speak to each other for days.

Today Martha is jumping over a puddle to avoid splashing in it and falling on her butt. I giggle because it reminds me of when we were kids. She isn’t speaking to me again.

Did you see how I led you down memory lane, tied it into the here and now? I tried to do it gently so that you get the clear picture of Martha as her best friend and as all friendships go, they have ups and downs. Like jumping rope, or jumping over a puddle. It is something that friendships endure and getting over a hurdle is one benefit to a lasting friendship. Laughing about it later will also be put in the story.

Sometimes a little memory comes to your character by way of looking at a car that reminds him of something, or a smell that holds rich memories to his/her past. These are small bites of the meal that will give your reader a lead into what they can expect.

They will be expecting baskstory. This is why you need to know the many intricate layers that make up your character beforehand. You can’t write blindly without knowing your character at all. Maybe try an outline of your character’s traits, (I talked about this in my CHARACTER post) past, and secrets.

If you know these things intimately, then your reader will be able to grasp them easier when they stumble upon them. The reader will be relishing these tasty morsels of this dynamic character that you’ve created and the reader will be wanting more and more, which will propel your story even further.

By laying these footprints along the path, you are leading your reader down a pleasurable journey. One that they will come back to again and again, and also a journey that they’ll tell their friends about.

Please do your homework. Don’t give a cardboard cutout of a character, give them depth and personality, with a haunting past that will have your reader wanting to become an archaeologist and start digging up the bones of the story! Give the reader what THEY want!


Joan McNulty Pulver said...

Great article, Joni. I liked the way you did the backstory giving the character more personality and greater depth by showing a sentimental past.

joni said...

Thanks Joan,
I feel it is through backstory that our stories maintain depth, and keep the reader reading. An essential element.

Thanks for visiting! :-)