Monday, September 13, 2010

Part IX Suspense - Backstory

Backstory is the part of a character’s life that has passed before the story begins. As in all fiction, backstory motivates action, emotion, and attitudes of the character based on past experiences. In suspense, the character’s past sets up ways he thinks and responds whether he is the protagonist, victim or antagonist in the story.

When creating backstory, create a life for your major characters back to their childhood--family discipline, birth order, family dysfunction, family social status, education and experiences, successes, failtures, romantic experience, family health, personal health, career choice, regional influences, religion, hobbies, traits, and everything else that might be important. Then use this information to build who your character is today and how it affects him in the suspense situation.

In suspense, do not neglect the antagonist. What happened in the life of the villain to make him who he is today and why he functions as he does. Follow the same procedures for developing his characterization. The villain will be covered more fully in an upcoming blog.

In suspense, backstory can provide details that explain specific character elements needed in the novel .
• ability in solving puzzles
• determination to succeed or win
• ability to manipulate or camouflage
• reasons for revenge
• unique talents or traits vital to the plot
• emphasis phobias or fears
• reveal reaction patterns
• can foreshadow experiences that parallel future or present event

Besides dialogue, suspense often provides backstory elements in flashbacks or detailed memories to set up past experiences in vivid detail so the reader can understand the motivation for the crime and the character’s motivation and goals to commit or resolve the crime.

Some basic rules to keep in mind is use backstory:
• On a need to know basis to reveal characterization or provide tension.
• To arouse a readers curiosity
• In small portions through introspection
• For the most part, in active delivery through dialogue or action.

The next blog will cover goals and motivation as related to suspense.


martha ramirez said...

Great post as always, Gail:) I always enjoy reading ur blog.

Debra E. Marvin said...

I'm so glad you are doing this suspense series. Thank you Gail!

Jill Kemerer said...

This information is so helpful.

When I started writing, I wrote too much backstory. Then, I actually began learning the writing craft (probably should have started with that!) and made the mistake of not putting enough backstory in to make the reader care. It's a tricky balance to get just the right amount and in the right places. Thanks for making it easier!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Thanks, all of you, for your comments. I'm so pleased you are finding this topic helpful. And Jill, you're right. So much of writing is learning to balance elements so that they are realistic, yet purposeful for the reader to see the growth of the characters and the foreward movement of the novel. Glad you're learning about the intricasies of backstore.