Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We've discussed the improper use of backstory within a manuscript, but let's get to the main reason why backstory is so important. Backstory builds your characters into 3-D humans. It adds depth to who they are, what they are, and shows why they act and react as they do within the pages of your manuscript.

Let's work on an example together. This is the opening scene of your newest work-in-progress: A woman who has endured abuse in the past at the hands of her spouse is sitting at a table as he rants and raves. Remember, on paper, the reader knows nothing of this woman or of this man. They don't even know that she has been abused in the past. Yet. What we are going to do is SHOW through her actions and reactions to her spouse that she has endured violence at the hands of her husband before.

Mary focused on the vein in Larry's forehead. The one that always swelled in direct proportion to the build of Larry's anger. She gripped the edges of the kitchen chair with her hands and dared not stare down at the rough wood boards of the table.
"Listen to me!" he snapped. His mouth twisted into a cruel line and he lunged forward. His fist sliced down. The table rocked beneath the onslaught.
Her spine stiffened and she purposely blanked her expression. Fear swam in the back of her throat, an oily taste that worked her gag reflex.
Larry jammed his face up next to hers. "That's the problem, you never listen to me."
He grabbed her upper arms with all the strength of a construction worker, his breath hot on her face.

So what have you learned from this passage? What words show that she has been through this before with Larry?


  1. Thanks for the example of showing rather than telling! I guess the words that show she's been through this before are "always," "fear" (she felt fear because she knew what to expect), and "never" (when Larry says, "you never listen to me").

    Thanks again for all the backstory tips! :)


  2. I love this example, Sandra. The line that says she know the swell of the vein in his forehead being in direct proportion to his temper SHOWS the history between them so well.

    She's seen his anger before. She knows that vein is gauge. Great example!

  3. Wow. Noboby edit my comments. I knew I was tired but...wow.

  4. Thanks, Amber, glad you stopped in. Hope the backstory stuff isn't too confusing. I posted something different last night, then read it over this morning and thought it was too complicated. That meant I had to split the information between two lessons, so the next half is next week. Stay tuned, my friend.

    And, Lisa, as long as we can read your words, we're not worried. :)


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