Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Back Story

I used to think I was pretty smart. Very quick to solve things. I'd watch a movie and know who the killer was seconds before the 'jig was up.' 

I felt that way about my writing, too. I knew what I was doing.

I was watching 'Castle' tonight. It's a favorite. I like mysteries and this is a good one. I've watched reruns for the last year. Tonight, I am ashamed to say, I discovered a flaw in my own self-appraisal. The back story. After a few episodes of 'Castle,' we learn the heroine's mom was a murder victim and this is what led the heroine to become a cop. Now honestly, I've known this for quite some time, but watching tonight, it dawned upon me that the writer of the series 'knew' before it even started filming, what the driving force was behind the heroine. Her back story. I hit myself on the forehead like the V-8 commercials. I should have known!

One of my most favoritest sci-fi series is 'Babylon 5.' 
It's not on anymore, not even reruns, but it was an awesome series that ran for five years. The creator, J. Michael Strazinski, planned for it to have a five-year run and it did. BUT - the thing that always astounded me, this was before I ever started thinking about writing, was that he planned everything before he ever started filming. The back story was in place, ready to go. I'm pretty sure he planned every back story for every character. It blew me away at the time. Now - I'm astounded even further. What a huge enterprise that was. 

One of the reasons why I have never written a mystery is because I was daunted by the 'need' to be able to fool my readers into 'not' knowing who the killer was at the end, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs until they discovered it, about the same time I'd show it. 

But it's not just mysteries that need to be written that way - with breadcrumbs strewn throughout the story. It's every story that needs this approach. 

I've been writing about character development here for quite some time. I didn't consider it as back story. But that's what it truly is. If I'm going to have an ending, I've got to have a back story - for the whole series (I'm hoping their will be three books) - and also for each character. It's imperative. It's insane not to do it. 

I don't know what I've been thinking all this time. Character development isn't enough. Though I've felt their stories in the back of my mind, I've got to get it right. For the books and for the characters. For myself and for my readers.

I feel a paradigm shift in my universe.

Life is eye-opening.

PS - the back story doesn't have to be shown. I've just got to know it!


  1. I know what you mean. Something about knowing the back story gives your tale a framework that makes it real to the reader, even if there are no clear explanations of what that back story is. I find the same with research. If I have thoroughly researched an element in my story and I don't really end up using everything I learned about it, there is still that foundation of knowledge as I write, and it comes through in the story somehow.

    Glad you discovered this, I bet it's going to make developing your characters much sweeter, because it's really writing their back story!

  2. That's it exactly, Margaret. As the author, I know what's happened and some of that 'leaks through' into the story. Makes it fun.