Tuesday, August 24, 2010

August 24, 2010

If you'll remember from last week, we talked about how to hint at backstory (events that occur previous to chapter one) within your story. Today we will take that same example and build on it to show the importance of *knowing* your character's backstory before you begin writing. It adds depth to your character/s. Layers. Think onion.

LAST WEEK: 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 and pounded the table.
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.

Today we'll add to this. Let's take one aspect of the woman's backstory, her job, and tell me how what she does for a living is going to affect her actions and reactions to yet another one of her husband's tantrums.

1)How would the woman's job as CEO of a company affect her reaction?

2)How would she react if her job was that of a janitor?

3)Same scenario, but she is a scientist?

4)What if she is unemployed?

Really give this some thought. What you're doing is seeing how one tiny aspect of a character's life, something the reader will not know about that person right off, can vary their action/reaction. Why is this, and how does it help deepen characterization


  1. First of all, I hope I'm not the only one who thinks of Shrek when I hear, "Think onion." What about cakes, or parfaits? ;)

    Now, I will attempt to be more serious.

    1) I think as a CEO of a company she would feel more in control and a bit more logical about the situation, perhaps. While his words and actions would put her down, the experience she has had on the job might give her the confidence to stand up and fight back, even in a small way.

    2) Well, janitors clean things, right? So perhaps this would mean she is more organized and meticulous, and thus she might be bogged down by the messy emotions. Plus, she might not have the same confidence as someone who has a higher position in the work force. However, it's possible she will fight harder to "clean things up" and work things out with Larry.

    3) A scientist would probably be more logical, like the CEO, but in different ways. If she was a biologist or something, maybe she would be focusing on Larry's physical bullying rather than his emotional bullying. Like in the example, when she zeroes in on his vein, the scientist might not be as concerned (maybe) with the feelings as she is with the big picture and analyzing Larry's behavior.

    4) Hmmm...if she was unemployed, I'd say she would be much more emotional. Her confidence would be way down, and she would probably be more easily intimidated and less likely to fight back. However, it's also possible that she could lash out even more due to the fact that she feels she has nothing to lose. It probably could go either way depending on her personality and the other parts of her backstory.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about and analyze! :)


  2. Good job, Amber! The onion better portrays writing. A parfait shows layers, but an onion shows much more. An onion's layers are a bit opaque, hinting at what is beneath. They are tight, just as our writing should be tight. And as they are peeled, it parallels how the revelation of our character's inner self should be revealed, one tight layer at a time, with each layer hinting at something deeper through action and reaction.

    You're analysis is a great one and very on target. Everything you create about your character will affect how they function with other characters in the story and career choice has a big impact.

    Gold star, girlfriend!


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