In July, I wrote about how I initially feared writing backstories and how that changed over time. This time, I’ll talk about how my random sparks of imagination can affect backstory development.
The first backstories are those that are often very obviously needed: how some characters met and eventually became friends or more. Those started as really simple ones. There’s not that much about two warriors meeting at the battlefields and becoming friends from shared experience. It starts to be more interesting when it’s revealed that one of them comes from a place quite afar, thus raising a question: how did he end up being where he is now? Now, that’s a question I can’t answer yet without context (and possibly, spoilers) but I might eventually tease some bits. But it is an example of how a character’s backstory can become complex.
How I come up with backstories is pretty much a random process. Some of the backstories started as a random idea I liked and eventually expanded. Sometimes, when writing a scene mentioning some characters, I had an idea how it could reflect on their past and thus I thought about that past – and their backstory.
What happened in the past days is: I was continuing some early work on book three. It went up and down as I knew where I want the story to go but had some doubts about doing it right (even in first draft, bah). There were some details I had to sort out and some ideas I had that I was not sure they’d fit in right. Eventually, it seems they did, way more than expected. The idea pulled several more characters and events together than I expected.
Another time, I knew that some characters were disliking each other and the early explanation was quite short: disagreement over some matters. I only came up with the specifics in some fourth draft. Again, it was also about how to handle showing that – put it as mentions in some dialogue? As some passive info dump before/after the characters meet in the book? Eventually, I realized that some bits could serve to set up the characters and eventually made their way into the reworked prologue while others waited for some other opportunities.
It’s quite strange when I look back now: most of the backstory was added/expanded in the last 12-18 months. Yet, even with adding the backstory, the word count was dropping as I kept cutting more fluff than it took to write the background.
The backstory development has several side effects. What I wrote in the first draft of book one’s ending was meant to be a temporary closing sequence that would see changes. Yet, I liked that idea and used it for more world-building and links to the world’s past, something that eventually led me to consider a full-scale prequel on that specific part of history (which I would now guess could be in the making around 2023-2025).
Likewise, the original prologue that I failed to make work was put aside as a potential novella to expand the world’s history. The ending of the second book led me to think about a second case where I could make an extended look back. Those are, for now, labeled as “Project Eternity #0,5 and #0,6” with no ETA and possibility of being merged into one shorter novel. Who knows what ideas will come to me in that direction?
Writing all the above was quite tough. I struggled with deciding what I can (and can’t) mention at this stage and ended up deleting maybe as much as is in the final version of the post – which maybe ended up messier than my usual jumble of thoughts. Some were because I’d probably need to delve deeper into a specific character, something that would be probably too soon. Some would be hard to mention without context – and thus making this post far too long. I guess it’s like with the backstories. Sometimes, a stray thought in a direction tries to take a life of its own.
Anyway, that’s all for this time. I have some ideas what I’d like to write about next – some things from a reader’s PoV, some from a writer’s PoV. At least some of it will be one of my next posts. Until then, have fun. And, as always, feel free to comment.
Writing backstory can really help as a pre-writing exercise. First drafts tend to have way too much backstory. Once you finish, you can cut out a lot or decide how to incorporate the backstory into the scene without stalling the story and getting stuck in the past. Keep the story moving forward and the reader will keep turning the pages.
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