On a personal note, I just finished fixing the first round of errors in my novel. I’m waiting on feedback from two more proofreaders before completion. My heart raced while making corrections in three different formats.
In this post, I'm focusing on backstory and how it affects plot.
Beauty and the Beast
Have you seen the new Beauty and the Beast movie? I saw it this weekend. Have you ever wondered why the Prince’s (the Beast's) staff was cursed? I don’t remember if the original cartoon version ever stated the reason, but this new version had. And I found it truly interesting.
The Prince was cursed to become a Beast because of his unkind heart toward others. His staff was magically turned into knickknacks, candlestick holders, and other furniture.
About twenty minutes after I began wondering why they’d been cursed as well, the answer was given: When the Prince was younger, his mother had died, and his father was a terrible man who was raising him to be a terrible person too. Instead of the castle staff intervening, they sat idly by, allowing the Prince to be corrupted. Which was why they were cursed.
When writing a book, many times backstory is not needed. And thus, is stripped away as I revise. But when the backstory is required to make the reader understand why something is happening, I’ve learned to answer it with as little detail as necessary.
The Beauty and the Beast movie didn’t expand into a long explanation. The answer, regarding the curse, was revealed with a couple of sentences that were relevant to the situation occurring at the time (Mrs. Pott’s was explaining the curse to Belle).
Is Backstory Necessary?
If I’m unsure whether backstory is needed, I write it in. I can always take it out, rearrange it, or simplify later. My editor was good at pointing out when a paragraph took away from my story rather than adding to it. Then it was up to me whether or not the paragraph remained. More times than not, I deleted it.
In earlier drafts, if my book was clumped with backstory, it was because I needed to remove an unnecessary subplot. Too many subplots can hinder a good story.
In one case, two readers didn’t know why my main character hated a side-character. So I had to add that detail in later, two or three sentences, explaining why the hatred for the side-character was justified. In that instance, I didn’t know why my main character hated this person, she just did. As I revised my book, that’s when the reason came to light. And it was a good one! And it was simple, NOT complicated.
With Great Backstory, Comes Great Responsibility
Either way, backstory can come in handy when used correctly. But too much backstory might signal a plot problem. When it’s required, let it unfold naturally. Otherwise, be prepared for the need to remove it.
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Writing Tip: Plots, Subplots, and Backstory
Great Tool for Writers