In your own stories, contrast is a powerful tool, as when you describe a character before and after a trauma, or involved in a happy and unhappy relationship. Maura, an anxious, controlling woman, became increasingly hostile until the marriage ended. The Dogs of Babel, by Carolyn Parkhurst, offers an illustration of how to personalize and increase the stakes in a novel. What Backstory Can Do for Your Story A well-told story is substantive, the opposite of a PowerPoint presentation because it teems with the lives of the characters. I felt happier than I had felt in a long time. In fact, whenever you can contrast people, events, or objects in fiction, do so. Tom, an executive at Digicom, is in the midst of a corporate merger and expecting a promotion and a raise. It also reveals influences of an era, family history, and world events such as wars that affect the story and its inhabitants. Further, because backstory reveals that Buffalo Bill keeps his victims alive for a certain number of days, the stakes are increased because time is running out for Catherine.
Backstory provides a window into how a character came to be who he is. The story is set in the computer industry in Seattle, where Tom Sanders and his family are living the good life. Meanwhile, the senseless killing of the war, along with the uncertainty, drug use, and persistent heat and craziness is making Randall question everything he learned before he landed so far from home. Further, because backstory reveals that Buffalo Bill keeps his victims alive for a certain number of days, the stakes are increased because time is running out for Catherine. The Dogs of Babel, by Carolyn Parkhurst, offers an illustration of how to personalize and increase the stakes in a novel. By the same token, a novel with too much backstory can lack suspense. Backstory reflects the influences from the past. A constant civil war wages within a fiction writer over the how, how much, and when of slipping in backstory. In most stories, backstory explains the main conflict between the antagonist and protagonist, especially if they have met before. Maura, an anxious, controlling woman, became increasingly hostile until the marriage ended. He wants to be a good soldier like his father, he wants to marry Kelly, but mostly he just wants to get the heck out of Vietnam and put the stench of rotting bodies and napalm behind him. And the stakes, which are tied to outcome, always pulse with the potential for disaster. A protagonist is a person with a burning desire, and backstory reveals where this desire stems from. Anyone who has ever left a relationship with a difficult person and then found a new beloved will understand. Some authors can get away with including exhaustive details these authors are usually under contract with a publisher , but most writers make careful choices about what to reveal and what to leave out. To do this, however, you need to understand the many functions of backstory. Worried about his standing in the company, he agrees to an after-hours meeting with Johnson. Every story cannot be depicted as a life-or-death struggle, yet the outcome means happiness or misery, health or disease, peace or discord for the protagonist. Raising the Stakes Something is always at stake in fiction. Backstory can also reveal that a character has a tendency toward self-destruction, depression, or rash actions, all of which raise the stakes. Revealing Motivations Motivation provides reasons why characters do the things they do. I met Lexy less than a year later, and I knew from our first conversation that when she talked it was an easy thing, plain and open, with none of the Byzantine turns and traps I found myself caught in when I talked to Maura. Perhaps the biggest problem with weaving in backstory revolves around this simple fact: I felt happier than I had felt in a long time. But meanwhile, his girlfriend, Kelly, has joined the anti-war movement and has been writing to him about her new antiwar views. Because fiction requires a mighty engine to thrust it ahead—and take the reader along for the ride—backstory, if used incorrectly, can stall a story. Maura, this first wife of mine, spoke so much while saying so little that I sometimes felt as if I were drowning in the heavy paste of her words.
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