1. Mr. Here
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    Mr. Here New Member

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    Back Story, my arch-nemisis. We meet again.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Mr. Here, Feb 22, 2009.

    I'm not sure if it's because I've taken on too ambitious a project or I'm not spending enough time drafting, but I can't get any work done. The project I'm doing is fairly epic, dysutopia/end of mankind/social commentary stuff, and whenever I prepare myself and sit down to write I find myself lost again in the Back Story. I get this feeling that I should just keep writing and throw caution to the wind, but I am trying to build a plot based on a history of about 500 years.

    Any guidelines on how to do this?
     
  2. Miswrite
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    Miswrite Member

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    Wow, seems you have quite a project on your hands. My suggestion is, however tedious it will be, write it all out. All major happenings should be recorded in a timeline. Perhaps, if you have a history textbook on hand, take a few pages from its' style and write your own 'textbook.' It WILL be time-consuming, but with a project as big as this, what isn't?And I have a feeling you will save yourself some time in the future, where, without an outline, you will get tangled up in events.
     
  3. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I think I know what you mean. There are two approaches to this, and I'm not very fond of either extreme.

    If I recall correctly, Robert Jordan spent 10 years researching and planning his Wheel of time series. When all of the details are perfectly clear to you, then it's only a question of how much detail you include where and how to space it out to avoid overwhelming the reader.

    The project I've started is also overwhelming, but I don't fancy putting it off for 10 years. By the time I have every little detail perfectly laid out I probably won't be nearly so interested in actually writing it.

    The other extreme is to just start right away, and rewrite or tweak anything that needs changing later. As the back story solidifies and new ideas come to you, you can always go back and add them.

    If your problem is that the back story is already solid in your mind, but so immense that you get lost in it... you need to just forget it, for the moment. Pick a character (if you're going multi) and just write their story. I know it's harder than it sounds (I really do lol) but just think - what's happening right now with that character? Become that character and forget about everything that doesn't affect him right now.

    I have seven characters I'm working on. They all have back story and all stories connect. The world has back story... there are political groups and important figures... all with back story. So the only way I can actually write anything is to think of what's happening in the moment with any one of them and just write it.

    But the beginning is the hardest part to write, so why start there? I have chapters completed and in the works for beginning, middle and end. I write whatever I've got solid in my head. The main story itself has been solid for a long time, but the devil is in the details. Those details will prevent you from writing anything if you obsess. Try to write a chapter that doesn't involve too many details.

    And if you have trouble keeping everything straight, write a timeline, as miswrite suggested. I never forget anything, but I'm starting to think that the purpose of notes and timelines goes beyond the memory issue. It just may help you clear the clutter, and perhaps allow you to focus on the now.

    My 'chapter-here-and-there' method is pretty much a timeline of sorts for me... I can just expand out in any direction. Write the chapters that come before, or after, or whatever, until they all join.
     
  4. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    I don't want to put you off, but I've spent easily... hang on... 5 years working on my back story. 10 years if you count the early development of the story as a child's game. And I'm still not done. However, I am getting pretty close to wrapping up all the major details.

    The key is careful planning. Make a list of everything you still need to do, and classify it (most of the times, something on that list is going to require you to do another thing before that, so it'll help you maximise your productivity). Having a timeline will do wonders, as will a map and a rough guide of some of the chapters. What you need to do is be able to grasp everything you still need to get done and divide it in manageable pieces, so you can finish them one at a time.
     
  5. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Tell us, Paul; was this on-and-off? Did you have long periods of stunted imagination?
    Did you work just a wee bit each day? Each week?

    We are all-- quivering with curiosity.
     
  6. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Well, it all started when I was around 9 or 10 (roughly 10 years ago), with your usual playground make-believe games me and my friends used to play. Slowly, it became a sort of roleplaying game where we would "enter" this fantastic world and adopt completely different personas. We would have adventures, cast magic and meet awesome creatures. Slowly, those adventures became a plot. Villains would begin to appear and we would defeat them- at a great cost. Slowly, we began to weave the tapestry of this whole new universe. And around 5 years ago, it hit me. I had to write this story. I just had to. I couldn't let myself die until this work- the work of my life- was completed. So me and my friends from that time began to work on the background. There used to be six of us. Now we're only three. I came close to ending up alone with such a monumental task (and to be honest, I didn't really mind).

    I will admit that it was very on-and-off. There were periods where real life intervened and pushed everything aside. There were also fights and time we spent angry at each other. And there were many, many times where I had to wait until my much busier friends managed to find time on their schedules for the project. But that's a thing of the past. I've already told them that from this year on, I'm going to go ahead without them. If they like it, then fine, if not, then that's too bad.

    My imagination has rarely been stunted. I will admit that I don't create something every day, but it's rare for a week to go by without me adding or modifying something. And there is where I encounter the most difficulties: I am still a teenager. My mind is still changing, I am still learning about the world, discovering new ways of thinking and creating. The world still holds many secrets to me. This leads to me changing much of what I have already created, turning the process into a neverending quest for perfection. The only remedies I have found for this are avoiding procrastination and finding closure. I have discovered that if I create an entire topic (let's say, beings that live on a certain area), then it's less likely that I will change it, whereas if I let something unfinished, it's highly probable that I will scratch it and start anew.

    Whoo, this became a long wall of text, but I suppose I got carried away. It's been fun reliving old times. Anyhow, let me know if you have any more questions. I like answering. :)
     
  7. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    And I, Paul, enjoy listening.
    What a good combination we make, do you agree?

    The reason I asked is because you seemed a bit dogmatic. Depending on Mr. Here's age, mentality and general interest in what he is doing, it could require less than a year for him to flesh out an expansive and exhaustive world.

    I, myself, have a decent imagination and am sure that within a couple of months I could detail my world greatly if only I were not so lethargic.

    I do have another question for you:

    How did it come down to only three friends? Did the others leave only the project, or are they no longer your friends?
    Moreover, how do your present friends feel about you doing the project with and without them?
     
  8. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Hah! I agree, though I enjoy listening as well, since I don't speak much. However, writing is... different. It seems I can simply type and type. See? I'm doing it again! :D

    Oh, yes. I am very opinionated and dogmatic. I've been told I come out a bit too... intense to people. Well, of course it should take him less time, especially if the world isn't overly complex and if he's doing it on his own.

    Indeed, which is why I strongly advise against procrastination (and lethargy!).

    Well, funny thing. One of them decided one day (about 4 and a half years ago, if I remember correctly) that he didn't want to be our friend anymore. You see, he thought that being cool was more important than having real friends. Me and my best friend (one of the two that remained until the end) didn't take that very well. The other two were two and three years younger than the rest of us, so they proceeded to "grow out" of such childish fantasies. Those two didn't stop being our friends, they just stopped contributing to the project. I don't speak with one of them anymore, since she grew up to be a rather unpleasant person. But that's completely unrelated to the novel.

    How do they feel? One of them already knew that from previous conversations, since he was never really helpful. He really doesn't mind. The other one (my aforementioned best friend) has agreed and is trying to do his best to take advantage of our current vacations to get as much done as possible before college begins again in late March. However, I want to clarify that I wouldn't have given a rat's buttocks how they had felt. It's called an ultimatum for a reason. If I had to choose between them and the novel, I'd choose the novel without a second thought. In a heartbeat. Sorry if it seems cold, but you'd understand if you were in my place.
     
  9. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Perhaps I would.

    I don't disagree even now, because I've never had a true friend, so I don't really know what it's like to choose something over one.

    Thinking of what I WOULD consider a 'real' friend, I at first would be appalled at your apathy toward them, but I can only assume that even your best friend isn't that much of a friend if you would not be even the least bit disheartened if he were to forsake you.

    Or, this story is a goldmine and you know it. XD
     
  10. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Well, it's not "apathy" so much as "logic." You see, I know my best friend (I will be refering only to him, since he's the only one I might actually regret losing. My other "friend" couldn't even make the tiniest crack on my cold, frozen heart), so if for some reason he can't or doesn't want to continue with the project but still remain my friend, I'll accept it. I won't mind. If our friendship is severed, then it's either my decision or his. If it's my decision, I won't be mad, since I have already rationalised it. If it's his decision, then it won't affect me, since I've prepared myself for such an event.

    Oh, and it's definitely a goldmine. ;)
     
  11. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Yeah, you cold, money-grubbing degenerate! :(
     
  12. Paul_V
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    Paul_V Member

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    Flattery will get you nowhere, Mr. Atari. :cool:
     
  13. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I would just keep writing, but not throw caution to the wind--I'd keep track of important details along the way, in whatever manner you use to keep track of things. Trust me. With really long/epic works, keeping notes can be quite important. (And can prevent plotholes.)

    I'm not sure how far along you are in building your world though. If it's something you're still discovering and working on, my best experience has been to learn about the world through the writing itself. Not filling out all the background information beforehand, but learning it as I go along. With one of my serials, I tried filling out detailed worldbuilding profiles of the main fantasy race several times before I started writing. Then I just started the story itself. I found that I had to keep revising the profile I'd written up before the story started, and the more of the story I wrote, the more of the profile proved to be wrong. I finally gave up on the profile and just wrote the story and learned about my race and world that way, through experience. How much better do you think you'd learn about a new place or people--through writing a book report on them, or through visiting them and getting to know them in person?

    Like I said though, keep notes.

    If you're already well into the development of your world, I'd still do the same thing. I'd never plunge into a story with NO previous knowledge of how it all works--I spend years mulling over my creations--but it's just been my personal experience that writing the story itself is the best way to develop a new world.

    That's just me though.

    If none of the above applies and you're merely lost in the backstory you already well know and aren't sure how to just write the story, well...just write the story. That's all I can say.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Is the backstory a story in its own right? If so, maybe you should write that as a separate work.

    But don't load down your current work in too much backstory. Only give the reader what is absolutely necessary for the story (possibly including necessary misdirection).

    If it's NOT part of te current story, it may be an excuse to procrastinate writing the current work. Don't let it distract you from your writing!
     
  15. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    There's a tricky knack in determining what the reader needs to know to make the story make sense for them and what the writer needs to know to be able to write the story effectively.

    With a long back story -- a culture's/person's history, religion, mythology, etc. -- not everything is necessary for the reader to understand the story.
     
  16. Mr. Here
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    Mr. Here New Member

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    That's a really good idea. These are all really good ideas! Thanks very much. I think where I get the most bogged down is when I'm writing about something I don't know. Research is key. I guess I'm just impatient, and rightly so! I have these fleeting moments when I can see the characters interacting and I can't wait to get it down on paper, but I have no world for them to live in.

    Maybe an exercise in dialogue and character development could be placing them in a random situation. I could be pertinent to the story or not at all, but I could at least start to round things out.

    The painstaking details of this world that I'm trying to build are mostly for my own benefit, to allow the action to flow much more smoothly, but I'm also one of those readers that loves finding little hints left by the author; subtle sign posts or artifacts that give verisimilitude. I think it really shows a mark of brilliance.
     

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