That's extremely helpful, Kyle, thanks!
Would rather read straight, well-written exposition than wade through a lot of dressed up scenes / dialogue.
Seems like backstory is avoided because most people suck at writing it. If you're not most people, which the evidence suggests, then go forth and write on, dear scribe, and blow our pants off.
Last edited by Chaeronia; 08-18-2012 at 12:06 AM.
Breaking the publishing duck with an expanded LM piece: For Sale: Baby Shoes, Virtually Worn
Ha, well, I did consider the "I'm just so darn special" argument. More convincing when someone else says it, though. Thanks, Jon & Chaeronia.
In any case, even if I were terrible (maybe especially if I were), it's quite possible that I should just stop fretting and write it however the hell I want.
(it's an L)
Last edited by lasm; 08-18-2012 at 12:07 AM.
I find myself in a really similar situation to yours. My MC is a notorious outlaw in a dystopian western setting and has killed more than his fair share of people. Because of a miscalculation in his outlaw-ing ways, he was beaten to within an inch of his life and had to be partly rebuilt with cybernetics. One part of his that was wrecked in the encounter was his esophagus, so he literally can't speak anymore, and there's no way for him to reveal his backstory to the other characters at all.
The link I'm using is a girl that knew him from his wanted posters and the way the government described him. There's an over-arching theme of redemption in my story and I like to think that, as the story progresses, she'll begin to know him for the gentler man inside rather than the horrible man he used to be, thus describing him by the way he conducts himself in the present rather than the past.
I guess that doesn't really answer your question at all, but it might be another perspective to look at things with - pushing aside backstory in favour of present behaviour. Maybe your girl could find out bits and pieces throughout her travels, but the guy isn't so willing to divulge things, leaving her to make up her own conclusions tempered by the way he acts presently.
Hi JackKnife, thanks for your thoughts - my character's situation is a bit different, of course, as they all should be - his morally questionable activities are not all in the past, and though he knows that some things he's done and does are unacceptable to most people, he's rationalized them and doesn't think of himself as bad. So my girl, who isn't always a model of purity herself, has made judgments about him based on what she sees, but she's going to need to re-evaluate when she gets this new, more complete information.
But there is the similar situation of a somewhat brutal, reserved guy who is really quite nice when you get to know him, trying to get the girl despite his flaws. Poor things. Your MC sounds very sympathetic.
Last edited by lasm; 08-19-2012 at 08:35 PM.
"Hey, see that broody guy over there? The one with the emo bangs and the pierced ear*?"
"Yeah, I see him. Looks like a piece of work to me."
"Yeah, I heard he just up and murdered a dude."
"Don't spread rumors. Not cool."
"No I'm serious. Cold-blooded killer, trained in the ancient art of Ninjutsu or whatever."
*appearance may be embellished
I have a friend, "Bob," who has a questionable past. His dad killed his mom and spent several years in prison when he was a kid. Bob is a really nice guy, but he has anger issues and has done some bad things in the past. Although he's never taken the time to sit and "spill the beans," he'll recount an incident every now and then. Something on NPR, TV, or something I say will remind him of an incident and he'll start with, "I did something like that once" …
I can imagine that this is how many people reconcile their pasts or explain themselves to others. They probably test the waters by revealing something and noting the response. If the other person handles it well, then he'll reveal bits and pieces with the passage of time.
Last edited by patskywriter; 08-20-2012 at 05:50 AM.
— Publisher of http://www.durhamskywriter.com, Durham NC's online community paper.
Currently working on my first nonfiction book, "And Then We Saw an Eye: Caring for a Loved-One with Alzheimer's at Home"
Staff Deployment - Yes, I am thinking that the grapevine approach will work for part of his back story. Please no emo bangs, though! yikes.
patskywriter - Definitely useful to hear real-life experience with this kind of thing. The "testing the waters" suggestion is particularly interesting, because my sorta-bad-guy sees the MC-girl as someone who is like him and will understand, so it might help for them to have a moment or two when he could be verifying this idea, reassuring himself that she'll accept him regardless.
I must confess I feel terrible for him at times. He was originally a very minor character and now he's really my favorite. Then he's gone for a good chunk of the novel, sort of an empty center, and I miss him (so does the MC). Good thing he's fictional and doesn't feel a thing.
Last edited by lasm; 08-20-2012 at 06:23 AM.
Lasm, I read through your excerpt you posted a while back and though I didn't make a comment, I was very, very happy with the way that I was discovering things about the world and the characters through their actions and interactions, and I would be very sad if you were to go back on that with long-winded character-less expository sections. I felt much more engaged learning about your story's society through your characters' eyes than I would have been through cold disembodied backstory.
Edit - actually I've been meaning to write a critique of your excerpt for a while now but a bunch of looming projects etc etc etc no time, later definitely though. 'specially now that I am reminded of it.
Here, I am not proposing a character-less history of the city or anything like that, because I find that sort of thing a little dull. Also I think in most respects my scenario (future city etc.) is more classic than innovative, so it's probably more fun for readers to piece that together themselves anyway. I'm talking only about character backstory, which I do find interesting and fun to write, and in the case of this particular character, more appropriate than for him to repeatedly make confessions. Only it is too long as currently written (~9000 words), so as I said, the information the MC can get elsewhere, I'll move.
Last edited by lasm; 08-21-2012 at 05:23 PM.
Hi Newman, thanks for the suggestion. Flashbacks do work well in many cases, but this particular character never has the POV - other than, maybe, in the part where he tells his story a bit; I'm still playing with whether to do that in 3rd person or in his own words, so to speak. So flashbacks aren't really going to be appropriate for him outside of that.
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