1. roseberryse
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    roseberryse Member

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    Question regarding history of MC

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by roseberryse, Dec 3, 2009.

    I am planning a novel where the history of the main character plays a large role in her life so far. However, I don't want to give all the information through flashbacks or dialogue, but I also don't want the novel to span the length of her life.

    Is there any better way of revealing her past without dumping all of it on the reader? I'm only concerned because there is so much history that accounts for so much of what is going on and how others feel about her.
     
  2. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    I encountered the same problem and solved it by having the book written in the POV of another character, who is with that character with the history. That way, only as much at the POV knows, the reader knows... I'm not sure if that helps, but that's all I've got
     
  3. hszmv
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    hszmv Member

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    Well, here's the problem, almost any thing that show's a character's past from a present point is going to be labled a Flashback. They aren't that bad, its all in the handling. For instance, a trend in TV series now a days is to start with the characters already arriving with issues and have a big explain all episode midway through the series. Heroes is notorious for doing this, having at least one a season. Jericho did it better, showing the characters 24 hours before the events of the pilot. The recent season of Smallville did an episode where, thanks to time travel, it was a flashback to the future to explain a gap in time between seasons.
     
  4. Ecksvie
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    Ecksvie Member

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    Could you reveal it as the readers need to know? Infodumping all at once is a bad idea.
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    This is something that seems to come up a lot here....my advice, as for most things writing-related, is to reread some of your favourite books and your favourite authors and see how they deal with the problem. In the case of my faves, they tend to rarely use flashbacks, and only when something is absolutely essential and cannot be related any other way; in all other cases, they either leave the past implicit and hint at it either n dialogue or exposition while remaining in the present. Flashbacks, or analepses as they are formally known, are easily misused. If you can get away with not using them, and I suspect that in all but a rare few cases you can, then don't.
     
  6. roseberryse
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    roseberryse Member

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    Thanks for all the feedback. I obviously don't want to just dump all this info on the reader, but I feel like no matter what, I'm going to be doing a lot of explaining.
     
  7. MelissaL
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    MelissaL Member

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    I have similar problems in this area. One of my stories has a character that has a very interesting past that needs explaining and I'm having a hard time doing it. Try what I'm doing, write a seperate page about this character alone and nothing else. Just write a story about this person and his past. Then you can figure out how to fit certain parts into your story later. It will be tricky but you can pull it off, just let your imagination work it all out and everything will fall into place.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why is the character's past relevant? I don't mean in general, but in terms of each past event you feel a need to reveal.

    Dion't tell me, though. When each item becomes relevant, that is a potential place in the story to bring up that event.

    For example, the MC lost a brother when he was a child. It's relevant because another character's sister in missing and may be dead. Your character is trying to support that character, even though the character is pushing everyone away and withdrawing into depression.

    "I hated my big brother when I was little."

    "You have a brother?"

    "Had. He drowned when I was six. I blamed myself for a long time. I was sure I was being punished for wishing he would go away forever."

    ...etc.

    You should be able to find several opportunities in your story to bring up a relevent tidbit from his past. If you can't, ask yourself if that event really is relevant to the story at all.
     
  9. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Cogito. But if the MC's past is globally important to the adult story, then just start your tale during the MC's childhood and jump forward after the important information has been delivered. This avoids flash backs and annoying multiple trips to the past through dialog.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    arron's brought up my own standard response... READ good writing... see how others do it and you'll find ways that will work for your story...
     
  11. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    I like NaCl's post. Although, one chapter at childhood and the next a few years later...gah, I personally don't like it, but it obviously works, and there won't be any flashbacks.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Flashbacks are not necessarily evil. Telling a story in a nonlinear chronology can work well if you manage the transitions properly.
     
  13. fantasy girl
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    fantasy girl Contributing Member

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    Have you read The Eyes Of The Dragon, by Stephan King. This is a good example of the characters history playing a major part of the story. Read this, and it will give you a good idea of how to put the past across without it seeming like Info-Dump.

    Hope this helps,
    Fantasy Girl xx
     
  14. roseberryse
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    roseberryse Member

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    I haven't read it, but I'll check it out. Thanks for the suggestion.
     
  15. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    (Actually I think Eyes of the Dragon sometimes, in some spots, seemed info-dumpy.)

    A movie suggestion for the most amazing use of flashback: Memento.

    The entire movie is literally a string of flashbacks, it starts at the end, and then, gradually, through a series of flashbacks, works its way to the beginning. The movie was incredible!

    Charlie
     
  16. Twisted Inversely
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    Twisted Inversely Senior Member

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    Second that suggestion

    On a subject of movies another good one to check out is Forrest Gump (not the book though) which uses flashbacks as a framing device, where easch flashack represents a new chapter/episode in Forrest's life.
     
  17. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like NaCI suggested, if you need huge amounts of backstory, turn it into a life's tale type of story. Start in the childhood and let the past play out as if it were the present. I've read/watched alot of epics that did this and the experience of being "along for the ride" in someone else's entire life can be a really strong one.

    Example: Legends of the Fall
     
  18. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Only do this, though, if something really, really important happens during the character's childhood. Like, their mother gets abducted by aliens, or they die, or their body is taken over by a god... you know, something really important. The reader wants to know what's happening to that character right now, and starting with the right now is much better than starting with the history. If the history changes what you'd expect a character to do, that's when you bring up that history. The reader knows that a hitman or evil character might murder someone, and thus they'll let it happen unchallenged; but when a kind-hearted charity worker strangles someone to death in an alley, they'll want an explanation. And waiting for that explanation can keep them reading for pages.

    One rule of thumb I read somewhere (sorry, I know how vague that is) said that you shouldn't have major backstory chunks or flashbacks until the second half of the book, simply because the reader might take that long to really empathise with the characters enough to care about what made them who they are.
     

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