Hijacked by Backstory

The novel revision has been on hold for a couple of weeks as I’ve been working on backstory for several of the characters. Not generic backstory like, “He had four brothers and two of them died and now he’s the heir” or “She grew up north of the mountains and has never been in a city”, but an actual event that took place three years prior to the events in the novel.

One of my beta-readers (the amazingly talented Slightlyjillian) pointed out several opportunities where I could, instead of having Character A think Character B is a liar, I could have Character A flash back briefly to a specific incident that made him realize Character B is a liar. Similarly, when Character B is reflecting on what a loyal person Character C is, he could reflect on this particular incident where Character C proved his loyalty.

What has resulted is (so far) almost 15,000 words about a formative incident in the lives of five of my novel’s characters. Three of them are main characters, two of them minor, and the relationships particularly between the three main characters is crucial to the outcome of the novel. In addition, I am absolutely loving this backstory and I’m hoping I can eventually turn it into something worth publication on its own, provided it won’t spoil the events of the novel for people. (I don’t think it will, though!)

Something I love about this backstory is that it gives me a chance to lavish a little attention on a couple of characters who only get namedropped in the novel itself. It also allows me to spend some time in a setting that was ruthlessly chopped out of the novel because the subplot that took them there was superfluous to the main action (and, frankly, my high-school attempt at a scene inspired by the Council of Elrond).

Another great thing about writing this backstory is that I’m learning new things about the characters that have been living in my head for twenty-odd years. That’s always a good thing! And they’re surprising me, too. I shouldn’t be surprised, because their actions are entirely in character…and yet I didn’t realize, for instance, that Character B had actually told Character A he would do a certain thing, before he ended up weaseling out of it. (Character A isn’t necessarily wrong in thinking Character B is a liar!) And I didn’t realize just how uncharitable Character A could be in his judgments of other people until I discovered that he would completely misinterpret something to fit his opinion of someone.

Anyway, it’s been a great exercise, and I’ve been enjoying it. All the same, I’m looking forward to getting back to the actual novel revision. My goal is to finish this backstory today. I want this novel ready for submission by the end of 2012, and I’m running out of time!

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