1. Anthonydavid11
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    Anthonydavid11 Member

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    No backstory?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Anthonydavid11, Oct 12, 2014.

    I'm in the midst of my novel and it is going well but there is too much back story. I think it should be in there, but well, I want to avoid telling back story and especially flash backs. I think it's lazy writing.

    Now I figure I can show a lot of it through the present action. What a person has done can be seen on them or spoken about by them for sure. So I am working on that part of it. I just wonder if anyone has any more pointers to reducing the amount of backstory without telling and flash backs.
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's hard to answer without examples. But very, very often what seems to require explanation can be deduced without an explanation, and very often it just doesn't need telling.
     
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  3. Anthonydavid11
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    Anthonydavid11 Member

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    Sorry. I know the example isn't much.

    Basically I have two groups of characters who are going to beat a town down into ruin. Wipe the place out in modern American times which I feel is pretty original. Only they are not totally key to the story and without backstory, I am not sure how I can really tell about their history without just telling it. Maybe the menace with which they do it will be enough.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmmm. I'd need more backstory to tell you how to get rid of their backstory. :)
     
  5. Anthonydavid11
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    Anthonydavid11 Member

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    Haha. Good point. In truth I have not developed them very well just yet and need to work on that but once I do, I suppose showing them in action is the way to do it rather than telling what they have done before.

    They are two different outfits- one from California and one from Nevada. They each control criminal enterprises that focus on robbery, narcotics, etc. They have come to town because the antagonist has ordered them to and well, he has a lot of money and connections which they value. He is a long-time associate. So they have the job of erasing the town basically. The book is a lot about identity and both protagonist and antagonist seek to keep their identities secret. The protagonist has done well, being a recluse for some time while the antagonist is known for his true identity by only people in the town which is why he wants it wiped out and forgotten. He is just using the two groups to roll through in military-style Hummers and take out some buildings and run off anybody who is left. He has already managed to bankrupt the only industry there and get rid of records. They are to make sure everything else is taken care of.
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think a lot depends on whether the backstory should remain a secret for most of the book or not.

    If you answer the question 'what is the reader's position in this?' you will probably come up with ways to handle the situation.

    If you want your reader to know the motivation for your characters from the beginning, then it makes sense to start your story with the incidents that you now refer to as 'backstory.' In other words, start the story earlier. If the character destroys the city because its citizens treated him badly as a child, you can start the story with him being treated badly as a child and we will follow his progress and understand his reasons.

    If, on the other hand, we aren't aware that he was treated badly as a child, we will just think he's a horrible villain and we will sympathise with the poor destroyed city. To find out at the end how the people of the city had actually treated him will turn our perception of him on its head, and maybe make us feel less sympathy for what he has destroyed. That approach also has story value.

    If you drip-feed backstory in as the main story progresses, then you can manipulate the reader's outlook on a page-by-page basis.
     
  7. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    In my opinion, if it's in the book, it's story, it doesn't matter when on the timeline it occurs. If it's NOT in the book, but shapes and influences the character's personality, motivation and behaviour, it's backstory.
     
  8. Anthonydavid11
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    Anthonydavid11 Member

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    Well he is the antagonist. The town did not treat him badly. It' just where his roots are and being a guy who wants no roots anymore with his identity, he intends to squash them away. Sure. Killing those close to him might be enough, but getting rid of the town altogether will insure that there will be nobody left who really knows him anymore.

    I guess I make that fairly clear early on, but maybe I should make it clearer. it won't hurt the story for the reader to know his intentions. I have gone through this story a number of times, but I have been kind of messy with it. Looking at his part and that here and there kind of thing. I wanted his mission more secret at first, but I think it really will not matter now. It's a fine line we writers walk between what e want a reader to know or not and when we want them to know it.

    So I guess I will tell early on what is going on so that this can be clear. He has plenty of obstacles and the protagonist gets in his way aplenty while he also gets in the protagonist's way. So I guess I can start out letting the reader know.

    Thank you very much for your input. I am rather new to message boards and I am liking the results. Facebook and other social media just don't provide very insightful conversations where I can learn. Happy to be here!
     
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  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I agree. If we readers ought to know about this motivation at the start, then by all means give it to us. Do avoid an 'infodump,' though. Make this 'early story' just as exciting and visual as the later stuff. Let us watch exactly what happens to cause the motivation. Don't just tell us about it afterwards. Make it into a scene, or scenes, and let us draw our own conclusions. Then take us into the rest of the story.

    Glad you enjoy the forum. So do I! :)
     
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  10. Anthonydavid11
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    Anthonydavid11 Member

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    I will do so. This will be my third book and I really want each one to get better craft wise. When I am writing I generally don't think much about any of this, but I am in the rewriting process. So there is much more thinking involved. I am getting there and I appreciate your input.

    I just want to avoid telling back story and I hate flash backs. So trying to fix those. If I don't like them, why should my readers?
     
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