1. Totzlol
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    Totzlol Member

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    Telling a Story Within a Story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Totzlol, Jul 19, 2011.

    I am writing a fantasy trilogy, and one of the main characters, the villain, has a pretty drawn out back story and the main character is just about to hear the back story.

    It is the main characters father who knows the story and I am wondering the best method to tell it...

    I am not sure if I should start a new chapter and put the reader in the time period that the villain first fell into evil, have it all in a paragraph or two, or do it through dialog...

    Any suggestions on the best route to go through in telling a large back story like this?

    Thanks!
     
  2. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try it each way, and see which works best. Also consider breaking it up and revealing it in parts, because a long stretch of backstory can get pretty dull.
     
  3. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^

    Yep. I'm a constant advocate of dialogue, so that would be my preferred route.
    But experiment and see what you think.

    I learned my lesson about back-story quickly. Someone who read my very first ms told me - quite bluntly - that my 5000+ words of 'history' were boring and should be trimmed ruthlessly. I was able to delete almost the whole lot, and incorporated a few key phrases into the story. Just sayin'. Less is more.
     
  4. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    Pretty much the first half of Prince Caspian is learning about the titular prince as Trumpkin is telling the story to the Pevensies.

    In Interview with the Vampire, Blackwood Farm and parts of The Vampire Lestat, the "flashbacks" are told in quotation marks as the character speaks. So, if you imagined the two characters sitting in a room and talking to one another, that would be as equally a dead on interpretation as if you were to be caught up in the narrative. I personally wouldn't recommend that, but it worked for Anne Rice. And it saves you the trouble of having to bring us back to the "present" when the character's story gets interrupted.
     
  5. Totzlol
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    Totzlol Member

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    Hm. Interesting.

    I thought I had decided just to make a whole chapter about the history of the villain, but after reading the insight given thus far, I am not quite sure.

    Looking more into it, I can definitely squeeze it into a simple paragraph, but I feel as though that might take away from the depth of the villain. Still, I am very fond of the "less is more" approach, and find myself again, torn.

    The villain has already made a very real impact on the story even though I am not far into it at all and so far the reader has no idea what she is all about, or how she even came to be. I am trying a writing style that keeps the reader very much in the dark about certain aspects of the world I have created, but then I reward them with very vivid descriptions of what it is they have been wondering for the past few pages of writing.

    I definitely think the best way I can know if I want to do it like this is simply write it out and see the end result, but laying them all out in my head, it seems all three methods (full chapter, bits and pieces here and there or a quick description be it in dialog or a simple paragraph or two) would work seamlessly.

    Aye aye aye!
     
  6. Myris
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    Myris New Member

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    Giving a long back story on a plot pivotal character can be a pain.
    The way I see it there are three options;

    1) You have him/her narrate the entire thing and have the other character(s) respond appropriately.

    2) You have small 'Flashback' episodes that link to events happening in the present.

    3) You spend a whole chapter on giving the his/her entire back story in immense detail.

    I suppose it boils down to which method you prefer and which matches the flow of the story.
    Not much advice for you there but I hope it helps.
     
  7. Totzlol
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    Totzlol Member

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    Every bit helps!

    I'm curious about your step #2. What kind of formatting would you use for a flashback? Would it be a short break away in the middle of the chapter?

    I have never used a flashback in anything I have written before, so it is very alien to me as it stands.

    Thanks!
     
  8. Ashleigh
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    Ashleigh Contributing Member Contributor

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    You have to go deeper.
     
  9. whitefairy24601
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    whitefairy24601 Member

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    Is he telling his back story to the hero? If not, what if he had a dream revealing his past and he is in it, viewing what he went through? This is just a suggestion, but dream sequences can be very cool if done in an interesting way.
     
  10. Totzlol
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    Totzlol Member

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    Nah, the back story behind the villain is just something that happened before the hero's time.

    A dream would be a very powerful tool to use in this setting, but unfortunately there is just no logical purpose for the villain to be the one conveying the story, so it's up to the good guys to tell it.

    Definitely liking how it is flowing so far the way I am trying it.

    There was some short dialog discussing the villain in the previous chapter, but then I just finished off the chapter and now the following chapter is going to be the full, in depth back story.

    I would love to post it here to see all of your thoughts on the entire process, but that post about posting work that will soon be published got me scared. =P

    Though I am curious for Ashleigh to elaborate, cuz from what I can tell it seems like you were setting me up for a "that's what she said." joke. haha
     
  11. Myris
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    Myris New Member

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    With the 'Flash back episodes' I mentioned before; I find it difficult to describe myself but I can however mock up a little scene for you here, to show what it is I mean:

    Hiro's glare bore a hole into Villen. It was a purposeful stare of as man that knew no fear or regret. It was pity that enveloped Villen for he knew the outcome of the future for the one with eyes that hard. The grin that had made it's home on Villen's face skittered off into shock as Hiro took in a single deep breath and uttered a word that Villen had spoken so long ago.

    “Why?”
    The child was crouched over, his forehead kissing the ground softly as he endured the agony of today's beating. “Why?” The child muttered again and again, yet there was no answer neither was their respite from the onslaught. -Continued-​

    Then from there you have maybe a female companion of Hiro speak, snapping Villen from his little flash back.
    I can see why - in a long storyline – this would annoy some readers as it can slow down the story significantly.
    It was just an idea but I will add that dedicating a chapter to important back story is probably the best way to go.
     
  12. Ashleigh
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    Ashleigh Contributing Member Contributor

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    LOL I was quoting the film Inception. You know, a dream within a dream? :p
     
  13. Totzlol
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    Totzlol Member

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    Thanks for that. It'll serve as a solid reference for some later parts in my story. I went ahead and took the route of a whole chapter for the villains background story. It's quite the doozie. lol. It starts with her birth, and spans over 20 years, so it just felt wrong to limit it down in any way, and I completely agree that bits and pieces here and there tend to make the story drag on, so I am knocking all the background of the important characters before the story really takes off.

    OH! Gosh, I am ashamed of myself. lol. I should have recognized that immediately considering I am about half obsessed with Inception. =D
     
  14. Sundae
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    Sundae Contributing Member

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    It really depends on your story. Is the back-story your MAIN or BULK of your entire story, or just necessary in order to tell your story.

    There are many, many different routes to go.

    But the best example I can give is Harry Potter (God, I love the books). But There is a lot of history in the books.

    • Voldemort's back-story as Tom Riddle
    • Back-story of the Oder of the Phoenix
    • Back-story of Percival/Dumbledore/sister
    • Back-story of James/Lilly/Snape
    • Back-story of the four Hogwarts houses
    • Back-story of the deathly hallows

    And I could go on and on. But the way each were revealed were clever, through time, in bits and pieces to move the plot along, until it added up to one cohesive story.

    So if it's a back-story that has a lot of history with many different facets, I would reveal it through time in bits and pieces.

    If you're wanting to do actual "sit-down-and-listen" storytelling - then do just that but make it compelling. Have the reader experience it as the story is unfolding.

    If it's short, then you can get away with just telling it. But if it's long, then you'll have to work at it and find out which angle is best for the story.
     
  15. Knave
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    Funny. Interview was the first thing that came to my mind, too. I have to agree, though, that I don't recommend the dialogue method. If you've got a lot to tell and the story goes on and on, your paragraphs all have to start with quotation marks because, presumably, your character is still speaking. Also, any dialogue that happens within the back story is reduced to single quotes. A bit of a hassle in my opinion (for the writer or editor, not the reader).

    I was talking with someone else recently about back story and I'll say what I said to them. I think back story can work and be appropriate if it's handled delicately and not thrown on the reader in a huge chunk. The term info-dump comes to mind. Sometimes, back story can even be put aside entirely and saved to create other pieces—prequels, for example.
     

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