The biggest thing I noticed was that I had laid the ground work for my H/h’s backstories, I’d hinted at it, I’d teased about it, but I failed to swing open that closet door and let their skeletons and the ghosts that haunt them into the full sunlight.
It was all there in my head. I’d plotted and outlined. Their backstories were all neatly filed away, but I failed to put it on the page. <sigh>
I think perhaps I was hesitant because I’ll admit it. <raising hand> Hi, my name is Jennifer. And I’m a recovering contest junkie. There I publicly admit it. *G* Anyway while I was entering contest after contest, I heard a lot of “too much backstory.” I’m betting a lot of you have heard the same.
The thing is the comment was meant for the opening chapter, which is the average length of an entry in a writing contest. However, if you hear something long enough, I think it subconsciously sticks in your brain. For myself, I must have computed: backstory = bad.
I’ve got to retrain my brain into believing that the pertinent part of a character’s backstory is my friend—in reasonable proportions. However, keep in mind that you don’t want to bog down the reader in the opening chapter. But you want to disperse the background information as it pertains to the character in their current situation.
Our backstories mold each one of us. Think about your past and how it affects the decisions you make today. For example: if you hated peas as a child but you were made to sit at the dinner table until your plate was picked clean, even if it meant sitting there for hours, you probably don’t eat peas even now as adult. Even though as you’ve grown and matured and most likely your tastes did too, I’d be willing to bet you still don’t like peas. The mere reminder of being miserable at the dinner table will keep you from giving those green little marbles a second chance. Sure, this is a simplistic example but you see what I’m saying. Your past is always with you and will in some way help influence your future.
However, a good friend of mine reminded me to mention that as well as the skeletons, you should not forget the importance of a character’s Ghost—the unhealed part of the backstory, which is going to directly influence your story. These are the things the H/h long to keep hidden and will do everything in their power to hide, but you must unearth them if the reader is to understand and sympathize with them and their choices.
ghost is Rick’s affair with Ilse. NOT his backstory of being a gun runner. Casablanca
Not all backstory is equal!
It’s the stuff that will make a difference that you want on the page.
So don’t be afraid of those ghosts in the closet—at least not the ones belonging to your H/h. *G* Embrace them. Swing open that closet door and air out those ghosts. They are your friends. They will help make your H/h into well-rounded characters. They will provide motivation for the H/h actions. And they will provide you with a beginning for your character arc.
BTW, this is my very first blog entry. Hope you enjoyed it.