1. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Back story boring?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by sprirj, Jun 21, 2015.

    My mc has no boring back story, in fact he has no back story. "I don't need to bore my readers with all that telling..what a smart writer I am" I thought to myself as I patted my back. My mc has no memory, so no need for a back story. And my first two chapters rocket away, and it's tense and exciting, and then in chapter three I introduce the main hurdle for my mc to overcome, and now I'm thinking "I don't care if this guy overcomes it, if he dies, if he lives, I know nothing about him, there is no connection."

    Imagine you are writing chapter three, how would you overcome this?

    Edit: I tried to simplify my problem, and think everyone missed the point I was trying to make. Please see my later post below.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2015
  2. Sundowner
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    Sundowner Member

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    Well, it's simple, I write a backstory. Honestly, I don't see what's so wrong with a slow start. I mean of course you could do with that "interesting spark" in the first few paragraphs, but I quite enjoy a slow start to introduce the characters and setting.
    Right now what I'm doing is what I like to call the Slugworth effect. It's a cheery little opening showing off every character's personalities, eccentricities and their everyday struggles, and every now and then, out of the shadows comes out what you assume to be the antagonist, though they never really do much besides look creepy and make you wonder what exactly they're up to. I think it pulls the "boring parts" though quite well, and lets you get acquainted with the characters while not totally losing interest because, even if mildly, something actually is happening.
     
  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't need to SHARE the backstory in order to benefit from having figured out the backstory. Like, do you know how your character lost his memory? What was he like before the loss? Has his personality been changed since the loss? How does he feel about the loss? Is he actively seeking his past, or shying away from discovering it?

    There's lots of characterization you can include in a story without giving exhaustive backstory. Loss of memory is no reason to not spend energy on making your character feel real.
     
  4. jaebird
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    jaebird Active Member

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    I agree, just start writing him a backstory. Don't worry about everything being perfect or set in stone at first. I would concentrate on something crucial, like what BayView said about his memory loss and how that happened. Figuring that out will lead you to other questions you can answer to keep building and branching out on his past. Maybe, down the road, something will need to change in what you come up with, but that's alright. Maybe pieces of that backstory, his life before the memory loss, bleed through into the main story without the MC understanding what's happening. Like, why does he find a piece of jewelry hidden in his dresser drawer, or find that he owns two shoes that don't have matches. Things that make him and the reader question just who he was in the past.
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never write backstories. The character becomes more and more interesting as they face the various obstacles in the story, and I get to know how they'll react and why as they develop. I don't know my characters - I get to know them.
     
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  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm not a fan of the amnesic character (except I plan to use it myself for a short section in one character in the second book ;) ) but I'm wondering why you think you need backstory to make me invested in the character?

    Did you focus too much on the action and neglect the character in the first two chapters? Memory is only one piece of a character. I don't think it's necessarily backstory you are missing in the first couple chapters. I suspect something else is missing.
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I reckon @GingerCoffee may have hit on your problem. Instead of developing character (even starting from nothing) you focused on action instead. Meaningless action, if we don't care about the characters or what happens.

    You might want to go back through the action bits and add in how your characters are feeling, what they are thinking, what they want to happen, what they are afraid will happen, etc. If you start with a fight between people we don't know for a cause we don't understand, or the talking heads of a verbal conflict we also don't understand, this is not tense and exciting. We will only feel tense if we care about the outcome. We're not going to care about the outcome if we're just dropped into it from a great height.

    See what you can do about personalising your 'tense and exciting' start a bit more. In fact, a LOT more. You might find your problem disappears.
     
  8. Rachelle
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    Rachelle Member

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    I don't know how much of a detailed back story you need in order to create a connection with the character. To me back story is more like, past, so maybe you could edit in some small things here or there within the chapters you already have to help give more of an idea about the MC's person... But you can also create a connection by using more "present" things, like experiences they have while the reader is reading so they can experience it with them (so how the character responds and their feelings and changes they experience..etc can help add dimension without having to add more back story). Plus it gives more opportunity to add in pieces of back story too. So maybe even push chapter 3 up one and take more time for some more experiences to happen to give more of an opportunity & a longer time for the reader to get to know and understand them better?
    Not sure how well this fits with what you're writing but just trying to think of ways to get around it if you were trying to avoid it still!
    Good luck
     
  9. Eliza Rain
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    Eliza Rain Member

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    Different stories require different character attachment levels vs their involvement.

    'in the moment' stories such as thrillers or adventures dont usually put too much effort into back stories because you're focused on the current excitement. However there still has to be an attachment formed. This is usually accomplished through using a stereotype and then tweaking it so the reader recognizes the character but finds some uniqueness to them.

    However any other type of story is going to have character conflict and development. Its needed because the action is not the main focus. How are you supposed to have any of that without a starting point?

    Just a thought! :]
     
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  10. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Can't you provide back story information as he overcomes the hurdles. Memories that comes back to him through cues? If you feel no connection to the mc as the writer, then it's more than likely the reader won't be connected with him either. If the reader can't get connected to the mc then you will lose them quickly.
     
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  11. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Thanks for everyone's comments. But I think I need to clear up my original post.

    Firstly, not sure if this thread should have been moved to character development. It's not a question about that. It was more about structure of story. Maybe this is the right place? Not sure...

    My character does have a history, I know exactly what has happened to my character, and throughout the book it is revealed. I like my mc, but my worry is that readers may just look upon him as bland, as they are not invested in his journey yet.

    Perhaps this is a better indication of the answers I was looking for...

    A guy sees a girl in the street, he doesn't know her back story, but on first impressions wants to get to know her.

    How do you achieve this result, especially if not driven by romance, as perhaps my example is.

    Any suggestions or have I confused everyone?
     
  12. Sundowner
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    Sundowner Member

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    I don't know if this helps, or if you were already doing it with poor results, but one of my characters at first seems somewhat uninteresting, though as the story progresses, they seem to act a little "off" and respond to people in vague ways, and even hold an image of someone that isn't mentioned. There still isn't anything to really make you care about the guy, but it does make you wonder what his deal is (at least I hope).
    So, what I'm saying is, try to make him seem deep. Give him aspects and eccentricities that are unexplained, but could really do with an explanation, and over time reveal what they mean. In my opinion, it's not the best method for a main character, in fact I think I'm only really familiar with action movies doing it (like what Eliza said), though I'm not saying it can't work.
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    What Makes Readers Care About Your Characters?
    5 Ways To Write Characters That People Care About
    I don't see anything there that says, backstory. I still think you are looking to a single thing about your character, his/her backstory, to make the reader care. Use the current story to make the reader care.
     
  14. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    You don't really need to talk about the back story unless it's super important. Right? Why not just have a backstory in mind, and have it influence the character?
     
  15. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    I would imagine that's done through your characters personality. If you're going by your 'girl in the street' analogy, sit back in your chair and ask yourself: what makes us want to get to know her?

    In terms of actual plot structure, you could always include hints of back story to keep the reader curious. A movie springs to mind, actually -- Dark City. The protagonist in that wakes up in a bathtub with amnesia, but the movie is still engaging, but why? That's the big question is it not. Sometimes we find ourselves sympathising with characters we know little about.
     
  16. Kallisto
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    Kallisto Active Member

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    I would consider creating a backstory for yourself. No need to introduce it to the readers if it's not important, but you don't have a connection with your MC, then how would others?
     
  17. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Hi Kallisto, welcome to the forum, my bad, the way I started the thread meant it went the wrong way. Please read through the thread to understand the real issue.
     
  18. drifter265
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    drifter265 Banned

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    This is really confusing. How can a MC who has memory loss not have a backstory that's integral to the story? Anyway, the key to telling backstory is not to tell it all at once and especially not in a prologue or in the first chapter. Let it spill out in little nuggets. Revolve the backstory and the revealings of it around key plot points in your book with the climax holding the most significant backstory reveal for effect. Use the character's backstory as one of the subplots of the book. And don't ever make it boring. Don't ever just dump it onto the reader. Make them learn it, not sludge through it and have them quickly glossing it over or skipping it. Look at your favorite movies and stories that you want your story to kind of emulate. Follow that pattern. Follow the pattern that most speaks to you and you know in your heart is the right structure for your story.
     
  19. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the post is in the right spot, because the reason we care about characters is character development. Have you developed yours?

    If you're writing something action-y, think about Die Hard - we care about McLain b/c he's everyman, pushed into a situation b/c he cares about other people, forced to be a hero b/c he's stubborn and won't give up, etc. You could take a clip out of that movie, one that didn't show the backstory about the wife and whatever, and the viewer would still care about him and want him to survive, because we see how hard he's trying, how beat up and exhausted he is, how overwhelming the odds are, how reluctant he is to keep going, etc.

    You need to let us into your character's thoughts and emotions. You need to show that he's struggling. Don't write:

    Gar effortlessly bashed the door open and sprang into the room, his polished sword Mysnaderfeltinghalth eager for blood.​

    Instead, try:

    Gar tried to take a deep breath but it caught somewhere in his chest; he had to hold it until he was sure he wouldn't cough. Or puke. There were Tryfantis in the next room. Too many for him to fight, and he knew it. But there were too many behind him as well, and if he had to die, he would damn well die going forward. So he readied his blood-stained sword and threw his body against the door.
    Or whatever. The point is, you're right, nobody will care about your character, or about the action, unless you give us reason to care. So what's your character like? How can you show that to us without getting in the way of the action?
     
  20. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Ok, so I'm not making myself clear. I will spell it out.

    My MC has a back story, but I reveal nothing in the first chapters ( as most sites, books etc advise not to give info dumps, especially in the beginning. This makes sense to me. So I've lead with action. My question is how can a reader care for someone they do not know?

    A horrid example is that someone was murdered yesterday two streets away from where I am. I didn't care for the victim, because I didn't know him, my only concern was if it is safe for the people I know?

    So as a writer, who holds back of giving information to readers so they can enjoy the action and fast pace, I wonder, who is going to care enough to get to chapter five?

    Ps this is not a direct comment on drifters post, just a good example of how most posts here relay the same generic advise found in any 'how to write a novel' essay. I want to hear how others have overcome this, and people must have, although my mc with no memory, makes it a little trickier.

    Am I making sense or should I give up? Apologies for lack of clarity.
     
  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your no-memory thing is just a red herring. Stop worrying about it and look at characterization.

    You don't need examples from people here - read your favourite books and see how THEY do it.
     
  22. Shuvam Das
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    Shuvam Das Member

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    Backstories aren't necessarily boring. I'd suggest you to figure out a backstory for your protagonist. You don't even need to put it right at the beginning. So, you'll not risk boring readers in the start. Show flashbacks when needed. If the MC never regains his memories, then how about just keeping it to yourself?
     
  23. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Unexplained intuition and personality traits that obliquely foreshadow the unveiling of the past.
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If back story is good enough to present to the reader, why isn't it story?

    The only elements of back story you should provide to the reader are those elements directly related to his or her actions or behavior in the current story. Of course, the reader will want more, and that's a good thing.

    Always leave the reader a bit hungry. Not starved, but hungry.
     
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  25. drifter265
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    drifter265 Banned

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    It's not easy. I haven't overcome it myself; making sure a reader cares for a character enough to keep going with a book and not just stopping at chapter five. But maybe they don't have to care for a character at the beginning, they just have to care about the story and what the overall message is you're trying to say.

    Look at Tom Joad in Grapes of Wrath. The first time we meet him he's a hitchhiker who in his first chapter admits he was in prison for killing somebody. But as the novel went on, we learned about Joad and started to care for him. We didn't care for him right away. We had more sympathy for the truck driver probably than Joad in the first chapter. But we kept reading because we had faith in the author (i.e. faith in YOU) that the author knew what they were doing and that even though we didn't care for this character or the story in the first chapter, we had faith that eventually in the end we would.

    Work on your story's theme. Figure out the ending. What is it you want to say? Maybe after you've figured that out you'll have faith in yourself (not your readers having faith in you) that eventually you'll come to care for your character yourself and that although at the beginning your character isn't very much likable now they will be.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2015

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