#WriterWednesday: Writing reveals. Character backstory.

It’s Writer Wednesday, let’s talk writerly things!

Coming up with new ideas really has me thinking and analyzing the way I write things. Of course, back when I was brainstorming The Lone Prospect and the Dawn Warrior I didn’t have a blog like this and well, the only person I constantly talked about my writing with was Becca. (I still talk to her constantly about my writing, not much has changed.)

When I’m writing a story, I’m trying to take the reader on a journey, an adventure and along the way I want them to get to know these characters I’m writing about. I don’t want to dump all the information about them and their backstories and personality on the reader all at once and in the beginning. That’s boring. That’s telling the reader things instead of showing it to them. It can also set up false expectations, especially if I as a writer say one thing about the character and then never show the character doing that thing or acting that way or feeling a particular emotions.

If  I tell my readers things right off the bat, the journey will fall flat and end before it even began. Because there was no journey, there was no adventure. If I tell you the character’s history and motivations and deepest darkest secrets before the plot begins, why would you care to read the story at all? You probably wouldn’t. There is no reason to.

There are things that I know as a writer. They are swirling up there in my head. I know things about the character’s past. I know things about their motivations and the way they feel emotions. I know why they are the way they are. (And sometimes I don’t  know all of it, as I come up with more story, I learn more especially about smaller characters.) But I have to know the right time as a writer to reveal it to you, as a reader.

Now these are some guidelines I use (consciously or unconsciously) as a writer.

When one of the other main characters needs to know the information.

Most of the time, a lot of information in a character’s backstory is simply not relevant to the task at hand. And if one of the main characters hasn’t grown up, gone to school or know intimately the details of another person’s history, then nine times out of ten, they probably really don’t need to know. Until this information becomes important to dealing with them. From if it’s how the character learned a skill, to a simple “Dude, we just don’t talk about that around them. Bad things happen.” Or an off hand comment to explain what just happened and clue in our hapless main character. (I can’t use MC. I write about a motorcycle club and it gets confusing!)

When it’s logical for the character to be thinking about the information.

We all have memories. It’s one of the interesting bits of human existence, that we remember things. We remember our past the good and the bad. (Though some studies say it is easier to remember negative things rather than positive things, so try to fill your lives with positivity folks!) And depending on the situation, how important the past is to the present and how much time the character has on their hands, they may think about the memories of what formed the skill or situation or reaction. (Sometimes visceral reactions are visceral reactions and will need guideline number 1.) Basically, if the character has a memory, or flashback or even triggering event that deals with the situation then, it’s perfectly acceptable to reveal the information as a way of building the character.

When it has the most impact on the plot.

When you’re writing a mystery, or a thriller sometimes it’s useful to leave out information until you can punch the reader in the face with it. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to leave little clues and foreshadowing in the books so it doesn’t completely feel like what just happened was out of left field. Sometimes, as a writer, you just plain want to try and surprise your reader in hopes that the surprise is a good well set up surprise and they’ll keep turning pages because it’s just that fascinating.

When you’ve written in a question and you need to answer it.

Writers can use their writing to ask questions about the story or sometimes about the nature of the universe (notorious for scifi/speculative fiction writers.) These questions can be as innocuous as “who would kill this seemly harmless person?” to as charged as “Can racism ever be ended?” And a good writer know the questions they are asking as they set up their story and know to answer them by the conclusion of the story. (Whether or not I am a good writer in this respect remains to be seen.) Many times, these questions have to be asked by the writer themselves as they are coming up for the idea of the story and the way they answer them will determine how the plot goes. An answer to a question that was never asked in the story can be just as jarring as a twist without foreshadowing.

There are just a few ways I’ve thought of revealing important information as I’ve been thinking about my new story and analyzing the way I’ve revealed information in the stories I’ve already written. I’m sure that there are other ways to do it.

Have a good Writer Wednesday.

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