Monday, May 30, 2011

Showing Backstory

I've been diving deep into my characters and plot for Book 2 and turning up all kinds of interesting things.  I'm doing this up front because it was one of the things I didn't do for Book 1 until very late because I didn't know any better.  As I work, I'm seeing what I can do to round out the characters and the story.

This has led to some interesting questions that I had to answer.  For example, the tension in the story starts when the main characters prevent a little orphan girl from being abducted by a local witch.

The witch gets away but the girl, Amanda, is safe.  This poses the question why did the witch want Amanda in the first place?  Was it convenience or is there something about the girl that is special.  I had already decided that Amanda was the fifth of five girls the witch wanted for a sacrifice to a demon.  In this way, the witch hoped to acquire knowledge and power to cement her hold on the town.

Ultimately, I decided that there had to be something about Amanda, something special because if there wasn't then the witch would find a different girl and perform her ritual after not abducting Amanda.  Not a lot of tension there.  But by making Amanda special in some way, I create more tension.  Now the five girls are selected for a reason and the fact that the heroes of the story have one of the girls sets up a reason for the witch to attack them.

But the real problem I had was, what was special about Amanda? My first thought, that she had the ability to learn and use magic seem too easy, too pat.  I wanted something else.  Something we wouldn't think twice about that the heroes of the story would.  And then it all fell into place.  It was Amanda's astrological sign.  And then it hit me; what the witch needs was four girls for the four basic elements, water, air, fire, earth, and a fifth girl to represent magic.  That was perfect; it explained why the witch needed five girls and why those five girls.  It let me nail down the signs of the zodiac for my fantasy world (which I'm sure I'll use again) and tied those signs to the system of magic I developed for the first book.

All very nice and neat.  And the most the reader will learn about all this is that if the witch is planning to sacrifice the girls she had abducted they need to have the right astrological sign.  The story's demon hunter, Evan, who knows all this does not elaborate because the other characters understand what he means.  To ensure the reader does too, I have them discuss it a bit.

And this is perfect example of the amount of backstory that is often required to make the story work.  Often I can't show more than the very tip of it.  And this is also the issue I have with showing the characters as completely as some people want.  I can't (or I won't) do it at the expense of the story.  It has to fit in with the story I'm telling.  In Book 1, there weren't many subplots or side stories.  In Book 2, each main character has one, specifically to address the comments I received on Aure, the Topaz.

And I've planted seeds in Book 2 that I will pick up in Book 3.  And in this way, the story, the characters, and the readers all grow together as the series progresses.

I only hope Book 2 is well received.

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