1. Flashfire07
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    Flashfire07 Active Member

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    Background information

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Flashfire07, Sep 11, 2011.

    Recently I have begun writing a fantasy/modern paranoia story set in two world, the Real World and Over There. Now what I'm wondering is if background information your audience will never read is of any value. For instance, if I wrote 20 pages detailing the various skirmishes between the Iron Guard and the Legion of Rust, would that be of any use if the audience is never going to see any of the battles?
     
  2. Faerytale
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    Faerytale New Member

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    20 pages is a bit much if the skirmishes aren't involved in the plot. You could try, like, two paragraphs in the beginning telling why they're at war, and various bits of history could leak out during the story. Don't lose your audience by going too far into something they're never going to see again.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Write story, not back story.
     
  4. AMasonCarpenter
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    AMasonCarpenter Member

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    In my novel, I have been squeezing in a blurb of historical data between each chapter. Just a page or so. That way the reader gets all the background, but the narrative flows around it nicely. I cannot remember who I stole this form from, but I know I did not invent it.

    AMC
     
  5. Flashfire07
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    Flashfire07 Active Member

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    Well what I've done is written up all kinds of things for my setting, like village names, government styles, trade routes etc. What I'm asking is whether this stuff is useful to an author in regards to making the setting feel more real, or is it useless and I'd be better off just ploughing into the story?
     
  6. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    If it's not going into the story itself then I'd say it's just up to you. This is kind of similar to the thread on the Character Development forum about doing 'interviews' with your character; you can see on that thread that some find this kind of thing helpful, and others think it's a waste of time.

    I haven't done much writing, but so far I'm finding that I'm more of a plough into it type, I don't think I'd like the rigidity of having everything planned out from the start and I like just getting on with the story. But if you're finding these details helpful and enjoyable to write then why not continue?
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    That sort of thing can be useful to an author, even if it doesn't show up in the story directly. I think you should give careful consideration to whether a reader needs or wants to read it, however.
     
  8. Flashfire07
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    Flashfire07 Active Member

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    Yeah, the stuff I'm writing isn't going to make it into the book except as little bits of info caught in conversation, like if the characters are talking to someone and get told "You want to see the Baron of Troutcove if you want to know about that White Order monk you saw running around the other day, be wary though, I hear the Baron is an old Iron Guard and might just fillet you for associating with the Order", the information behind the statement might be a lot more than that, and when they speak to the baron the audience might be told "Yes, I do hate the Order, they plucked out my left eye for payment when I was unable to provide their tithe this year", the information I have would be a list of what the Order wanted in that tithe, the resources available to Troutcove and the reason for non-payment.
     
  9. cobaltblue
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    cobaltblue Member

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    Seems to me like having your back story all written out would be for your own benefit - a resource for you to consult if needed while putting snippets of the history into your actual story. If your actual story becomes an awesome bestseller then there will also be a market for the back story ;)
    I'd say note it down for your own use, but don't get so caught up in it that you're not moving forward with your real story.
    Blue
     
  10. Alex W
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    Alex W Contributing Member

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    What I would do is either dedicate a chapter to someone explaining the back-story that you wish to create, or have an epilogue with a few pages on it there. I've read books where they've explained events before the book begins as the information needed to be mentioned to understand much of what followed.

    I'd do either of those. 20 pages is a little long though, great that you've got such a set in stone 'Lore' to work with, but perhaps a little lengthy, unless you want to write a mini-story at the start, which could put people off.
     
  11. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    The key is relevancy. You can have as much background info as you like, but if it doesn't play any part to either plot or understanding of the plot - such as names and places for the sake of texture only - it shouldn't be there. I tend to give a lot of backstory in the series I write set in the modern present day because it'sso much harder to convey the world well without explaining it. I mean, like, what's *different* in my world, so every placename, meaningless politician, altered historical event and so on are something people might already know or know about in theory, so I'm not confusing anyone if I mention the 70s as context, so I'm already saving a paragraph of explaining what that was all about, leaving me time and mental space for the reader to come up with some extra facts about what I wanted to happen then.

    You might think that you have more to explain in a made up world, but by and large people are happy to read stuff in analogy. For novels set somewhere so obviously made up and different my word is the only thing the reader has to understand the place, I tread very carefully because I feel people, if they read like I do, will be taking much greater note of names, places, mythology etc because it's all they have and they are travelling blind. If you want to have a deeply textured world and to do it well, you have to go back and pick up on every. single. little. detail.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you must flesh out a back story, keep it to yourself.

    You may think, "But the readers want it!"

    Don't give the readers everything they want. Keep them wanting. Keep them hungry. Feed them just enough to sharpen their appetites, not so much they sink into a satiated stupor like Thanksgiving dinner guests.

    You may also find that your detailed back story gets in your way. You are well into your story when you realize it would work better for your story to make changes to the back story. You will be reluctant to unravel your beautiful and intricate tapestry of background. But remember, it's the actual story that matters.
     
  13. Sr. Flora OSB
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    Sr. Flora OSB New Member

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    The better you know your world, the better your reader will be able to insert herself/himself into the world. You may never release the backstory of King John's family and the raping and pillaging that King John's great-great-great-grandfather did to establish the kingdom. Then again, you may have a character looking into the establishment of the kingdom. Rather than thinking on the spot and leaving your character waiting on the page, you could go back to your notes and look the information up.

    I think of The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein. It contains very detailed writing about the various myths and histories in Middle Earth and the surrounding worlds in the Tolkein universe. Your extra notes may end up a book in and of themselves one day.

    All the best,

    Sister Flora
     
  14. Flashfire07
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    Flashfire07 Active Member

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    Thanks for the responses so far, thay've helped be decide that I should probably write background as it comes to it rather than before the story is written.
     
  15. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think you need to KNOW your backstory before you write, particularly if you are writing in the fantasy or science fiction realm. You need to know the realities of your world before you can set a story in it. At least I do. In my current project, I started out writing a story set in the future, and, unusual for me, I dove into it without thinking through a lot of the particulars. I found myself well into the project when I realized I had to keep stopping to try to figure out how or why things would have happened. I stopped and went back and wrote down about 20 pages of quick background notes on several topics within the story, and when I'd done that, as well as getting some feedback from a writing friend here on the forum, I decided to go back and start over. I kept the first few pages as I'd originally written them, maybe a little revision, and then wrote the rest of the novel from there.

    I found ways to make references to the backstory throughout the book, some through dialogue between characters (only one of these was of the "you'll remember that..." variety) and some through direct explanatory paragraphs, never more than one at a time and well spaced. But I always tried to keep it limited to what the reader absolutely needed to understand what was happening and why (after all, an awful lot had happenened in 300 years).

    Hope this helps.
     
  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I would not do either of these. Either would tend to emphasize the split between story and backstory.
     
  17. Flashfire07
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    Flashfire07 Active Member

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    Yes exactly, but what i'm asking with this thread is if there's a point to writing a heap of detailed backstory when no-one bu me is ever going to see it and the only reason I'm writing it is so that I'll have a more real world to set my story in.
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, there is a point, and you mention it in your post - a more real world. If you have a more detailed vision of your world then it will likely come through in your novel, just like having more info about your characters than you share with the reader will tend to make the characters more three-dimensional, consistent, and believable.
     
  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    And, as I indicated in my response, that's an individual decision. I've never done it before, but I found I needed to do something for this novel.
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    As pretty much everybody else has said, yes, there is a point to it, and you've given the point. The only question is how much background you prepare. Tolkein's case was rather extreme, and few writers can afford so much time preparing backstory. On the other hand I've been frustrated reading things where the world doesn't seem to have any substance, and I suspect that that's because the author didn't prepare the backstory enough. And I've been even more frustrated by authors who carefully prepare lots of backstory and then put it into the novel, which I consider a cardinal sin (although it seems to have done George R R Martin no harm). You need to find the balance that works for you.
     
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