Plot A Month W1D4: Backstory
Horrible fact of writing: you are going to know a lot more about your character than will ever be put on the page. This also drags writers down, because often they’re so exciting about their characters, that they want to share everything. Instead of conveying that excitement, it drags the story down, and loses the reader.
So, backstory. Backstory is essential. It is also a pain, figuring out what goes where. Your character worksheets are going to have some backstory, maybe a lot, so for this part, we’re going to focus on the essentials.
- Pick out the major events. That test your character failed in third grade is not going to impact them the same way their parents’ divorce did (unless the character connects the two). Pick out the really important things, whether or not your characters are aware of them. What caused a great internal change? What external issue brings them to the plot now? These things are going to be what your reader will need to know.
- Backstory Timeline: Your character didn’t spring to life the second their story starts on the page. Take that starting point and move backward: how did they get there? When did they move to _____ town, what did they get their degree in? This is going to be more mundane details than your major points, but they’re important too. You might stumble upon a great location, or a new plot idea you didn’t think of before. This can also be an ongoing list; you don’t have to go it in one go.
Both your main characters, supporting characters, and antagonists (we’ll get to them later) need backstory. Like I mentioned earlier, you don’t need it all right now, and some of it will probably change while plotting, but now’s a good time to get started.
Advice: Anchoring Flashbacks to the Scene
Anonymous asked: i want to include flashbacks at the beginning of each chapter. is it okay if the flashbacks are mostly disconnected from what happens in the rest of the chapter? (my MC is hunting down the killer of her boyfriend and his brother, and I want to include the flashbacks to show what her life was like before they were killed)
Flashbacks should be used sparingly and shouldn’t be relied upon to deliver back story. There are other methods you can use. If this is a “rule” you strongly feel you need to break, you do at least need to relate the flashback to what is going on in the story. There needs to be something that triggered the flashback, and even if we don’t see the trigger because the chapter started with the flashback, we need to see what it was after she comes out of the flashback. Sort of like: The day had been warm and sunny… and when he looked at me I knew the next time I would have a ring on my finger. The sound of a passing car jolted me from the memory, though my hand was still clasped around Jasper’s ring which hung from a chain around my neck. I couldn’t seem to ever touch it without recalling how happy we were back then. That way you’re relating the flashback to something in the scene. It isn’t completely random.
conductoroftardislight asked: thoughts on fanfiction?
I would not be where I am today without fanfiction. Literally.
I met Ariel Tachna, our Social Media Director, back before Dreamspinner was founded because of Lord of the Rings fanfiction.She was new to my city and organized a meetup of slash fanfic writers and readers. I jumped at the opportunity to go because she was one of my favorite writers at the time. She and I became friends outside these monthly meetups and I started getting into wine because she brought me to my first wine tasting.
Ariel was one of Dreamspinner’s first authors and she has always been one of my biggest supporters when I have my author hat on. (Well, all the time, really, but especially when I have my author hat on.) It was because of her encouragement that I got published through Dreamspinner, which put me in the position to know the right people and get the YA Coordinator job.
Because of my love of wine, which can be at least partially attributed to Ariel, I went out and found a second job working in a wine store. (Because as much as I love this job, sometimes I need to talk to people face-to-face.)
None of that would have happened if I hadn’t met Ariel and I wouldn’t have met Ariel if I hadn’t read and written LotR/LotR RPS fanfiction.
So I personally adore fanfiction. It is a marvelous creative outlet. It helps people build their skills as writers and to explore their ideas with characters they’re comfortable with. It lets fans explore gaps in canon. It connects people around the world. I have read some amazing fanfiction, and I will wholeheartedly encourage anyone who has a fanfiction idea to sit down and write it.
As an author, I can only dream of someone writing fanfic for one of my books someday. However, if that dream were to come true, I wouldn’t read it. I would be over-the-moon that it existed, but there are a lot of potential pitfalls to reading fanfic of your own work, and I wouldn’t want to stumble into any of them.
As a publisher, I think it would be wonderful if someone wrote fanfic of some of our stories. Again, due to potential pitfalls, I probably wouldn’t read it and I would likely encourage our authors to do the same, but wow would it be great if it existed.
As for the idea of turning fanfic into original fic that’s publishable… it’s possible. If it’s done, however, it needs to be done with care and I honestly wouldn’t recommend it. (I say this from experience. Two of my books used to be fanfiction stories.) Taking a story down, particularly a popular story or a story that’s part of a challenge, creates resentment from readers, both because they loved/want to read the fan version and because now they have to pay to read something the used to get for free. It opens up the possibility of plagiarism further because there are people who have downloaded copies of the original story. There is so, so, so much editing involved to remove all traces of the original story. And there are people who will look down on the story because it used to be fanfic.
I think conversion works best with the kind of fanfic that’s just using the people/characters and casting them as “actors” in a completely original story. There is still a lot to change, but at least it’s stuff that can be changed while leaving the story mostly intact. If the story is deeply rooted in the universe or characterization or anything else that belongs to the original creator, it’s easier to just come up with a new story idea, because by the time everything is changed, that’s what it is.
So go write fanfic. Go read fanfic. Go make friends based on your mutual love of fanfic. You never know where it’s going to lead.
The Psychology of Writing: Character Development and Sadness
From The Lion King to The Lord of the Rings, every great story features characters that experience sadness. Grief is a natural part of the human condition, and learning to write sadness believably is an integral part of developing a fleshed-out character. Like anger, which we discussed previously, sadness often falls prey to melodrama. A better understanding of sadness—its causes and symptoms—can help writers (like you) develop sadness in a character without resorting to unrealistic melodrama.
So, in today’s post, let’s talk about:
- What causes sadness
- Physical signs of sadness
- Internal sensations of sadness
- Mental responses to sadness
- Cues of long-term sadness
- Signs of suppressed sadness