Pinterest has been a goldmine for me lately when I need to find writing tips to keep my stories fresh and grammatically correct. I’ve found pin after pin of “10 tips to make your writing better” or “10 things to never do in writing.” They are great posts that give me checklists to use as I go back through my pieces to weed out anything unnecessary and add in the beautiful prose that stands out in novels.
But there’s one thing I have beef with in nearly all these lists: backstory. Why you don’t need it, or why you don’t need it where you think you do.
This is such a tricky part of writing. For example, my book’s main character has depression and anxiety (write what you know, folks!) but I’m mentally developing her backstory so I can understand her better and write in the present tense for her. Okay, that’s fine. Yet I also want to add some of this backstory in for the readers because some of it is logical, I feel. Why is she so terrified of death? Why does she reach for a bottle of vodka every night? Depression can stem from absolutely nothing but from my personal experience, and I’m sure that of other’s, there are several factors that lead in to it.
There are senseless ways to use backstory, I’ll own to that. But I want to break the rules and find the good ways to use it in my writing and show it can work. Could I be wrong? Absolutely. I may have snippets of backstory in my novel that I end up completely taking out and that’s okay. But for now I am going to write and forge ahead without worrying about that stuff. And I think other young author’s should, too. They may find something that works for them, or something that doesn’t work.
My main point is: break the rules and go from there. Understand why some things should or shouldn’t be done and if you want to do the opposite, go for it! If E.L. James can get published then so can you, even with loads of backstory added to your work.
And with all that said I would like to present a very small piece I wrote last week to hopefully work into my novel somehow. I may expand on it, leave it as short as it is or cut it. At this moment, though, it’s something that helps me organize my character. Give me your thoughts not only on this short piece but what you think about backstory!
The sticky July air plastered her curls to her neck but the sweat dripping down her clenched hands while she walked by the flowered coffin was much more noticeable. Four handshakes with the pastors and she was out the door to wait in the car for the procession to begin.
“We shouldn’t be here,” Olivia whispered minutes later, watching farmers remove their hats in respect for the dead girl leading the trail of vehicles.
“What do you mean?” he asked. Naturally he didn’t look over or reach out a hand.
“We’re 20 years old and we’re burying a friend.” Her hands tightened on the steering wheel while her grip on her sanity loosened.
He said nothing and stared ahead at the waves of heat rolling up from the pavement. Twenty minutes later they stood side by side and watched a pair of doves fly free from a cage into the sky. With them went her childhood.
A week later she was thinking of excuses as to why she was wearing a long sleeve shirt in the middle of a Southern summer. The raised lines down her forearm told her she better come up with a good one.