Day two, which means we’re on the letter B. Hmmm B…. Battlestar Galactica….bananas… blocks…. backstory!
All right, let’s talk backstory. Wooooo backstory! I’m way to jazzed about this. Need coffee. Wait, that’s a C. Anyway!
As a writer who is interested in fantastical and futuristic settings, backstory is addictive. Coming up with all the little details gets me thinking about the character’s motivations, how it all affects the plot’s arc, and how everyone and everything got to this point of things going horribly wrong. It also affects world building elements. Such as why a particular alien society is the way it is, how the space ships get to where there going, and on and on.
It’s extremely easy to just get lost in all this information and just keep building it and building it… and building it… You can see where I’m going with this, right?
What happened to the actual story I’m trying to tell? Should I just write a novel about the backstory? No! (Well, maybe. But only if it turns out to be more interesting than your original idea and don’t get lost in the backstory of the backstory because this could all be a sneaky trap.)
Anyway, I finally get to the actual writing of the story I want to tell, and I have ALL of these details about everyone. My main character likes the color purple because he fancies himself a Roman senator, and my villain who never actually knew her family has this super complicated and icky family history. And some guy down the street is currently coming up with a ground breaking theory about space and time, and his day job is as a janitor. And that’s around where it gets problematic.
I may know all of this extraneous information, but unless it actually has something to do with what is happening in the story, I have to leave it out. Maybe that janitor has great ideas, but unless he’s in the story or his ideas impact something in the story, I have to just leave him out. Maybe one of my characters knows the janitor, and heard about the idea, and it changes how she reacts to something. Unfortunately, if it isn’t relevant, I just have to let the “oh but this is so cool!” bit go.
Of course, there are ALWAYS moments in a story when backstory is necessary, but how it’s brought in needs to be handled so carefully. Info-dumping is something I am trying so hard to minimize. Instead, I’m figuring out ways to drop tidbits in conversation (if it’s relevant and the characters don’t all already know about it), and in the actions of characters. And I have keep my eye out for the accidental meander into irrelevant history. Even if it’s super awesome juicy gossip in my imaginary world. Le sigh.
How do you like to handle backstory within your story? Or if you’re a reader, is this something you’ve seen done well, and where did you see it?