bout between Back Story and Character History.”
shorts, weighing in at a hefty five hundred and eighty-two pounds is the
champion of all novel prose, Baaaaack Storrrryyyyyy!”
a sleek one hundred and seventy-eight pounds is the challenger,
Referee: “All right you two, I want a clean fight. No
hitting below the belt, no tripping, spitting, holding or biting. Touch gloves,
go to your mutual corners and when the bell rings, come out fighting.”
he’s full of pip. From his corner, Back Story lumbers to the center of the ring.
One cross from the herculean champ, Character History will be out, face down on
fists and waits, his hawk-like gaze tracing the young fighter. He’ll not give
up his championship belt without a fight.
has no power over him.
down, Back Story. You’re going down.”
snaps back and he wobbles to stay up. He’s against the ropes. Back Story
hard shot to Back Story’s ribs. The big man is stumbling, breathing heavily.
History circle. He strikes again with an uppercut…
uppercut. Ooo, Back Story is taking a beating. He’s teetering… he’s stumbling…
he’s against the ropes. Sam, it’s not looking good for Back Story.”
Back Story falls!
watching Goliath being quelled with one of David’s stones.
nine, ten. You’re out, Back Story. You’re out.”
is the new prose Cham’peeean of the World.
Fun, uh? Okay, I can hear y’all now, “Rachel, what are you
I’m talking about back story verses character history.
What’s the difference? Strength, power, speed, agility and ability to sustain
the long haul of a novel.
encumbersome. Slow. Waddling. And most of the time, unnecessary.
some glimpse into the heart and soul of a character.
and out, not weighing down the story.
the rule: No back story for the first 30-50 pages.
something critical about the character for the opening scenes to make sense?
call — a possible robbery — since returning to the force after being shot in
the gut while responding to a bank hold up.
gets inside the establishment, he draws his gun a bit too early and almost
shoots his partner.
rule” we miss the importance of this moment.
think he drank too much coffee. We don’t care.
the reader a hint of Billy Bob’s emotional state.
shoulder from the bullet wound burned and twisted as Billy Bob entered the
bank. It’d only been four weeks… and in a split moment, he couldn’t remember
why he’d returned to this job.
in the story.
from his partner.
The reader wants to find out more so s/he turns the page.
action and talks about things unrelated to the current scene and emotion.
it’s about Billy Bob and it’s all true, but it takes the reader to another emotional place.
could still be a cop on the beat. But his dad had been a cop and his father
before him. Every Martin man wore the badge.
time he held his father’s badge, feeling the cool metal in his palm, stroking
his finger over the shiny brass.
his father. Mother didn’t want him to be. She worried about Dad, but if a man
put on blue and a gold badge, wasn’t he invincible?”
reader’s forgotten what was going on.
mused over his past. Or worse, shot Billy Bob’s partner.
his Dad when our hero, Billy Bob, is facing a voice-of-truth moment.
History is for the reader, and the power of the story.
stage. If your heroine cannot stand the hero, don’t let her behave irrationally,
leaving the reader in the dark. Don’t give us a snippy rude girl without giving
us motivation. Drop in a line of history. “Ever since seventh grade when he stole her PE
clothes from her locker and she got detention, Jen couldn’t stand Colby Witherspoon.”
how your character is afraid of…. snakes or heights. Can you imagine how boring the snake scene
would’ve been in Indiana Jones would’ve been if Indy went on for several minutes about the reason he hated snakes. How his big
brother used to toss snakes on him when they played in his grandma’s creek? Who
cares at that point? All we needed in the opening scene was “I have snakes.”
the heart and mind of the protagonist. But be careful. Just a bit of history is
all we need. Use dialog, or a fast line or
prose, to paint the history. Don’t give
the reader a montage that begins when our heroine is ten and ends when she’s
sixteen. All you need is enough to fill
the reader in.
motivations. Let the history pertain to what’s happening in the
current scene. If your character is dealing with, oh, say, an errant child,
don’t stop and give a dissertation on the protagonist own childhood and
upbringing. Not necessary. Boring. But, do tell us how her mother was so kind
and patient, and it frustrates her how she is so impatient and sharp. That’s
all the reader needs to get what’s going on with the protagonist motivation.
the present.” Ooo, where did she go?
to sit and reminisce, but a novel is about tension, conflict and moving
forward. Most of us don’t stop to muse or reflect while arguing with our friend
or trying to save the world. Right?
character drift off in thought for a moment, but be guarded. Ask yourself if
there is a better, more emotionally impacting way to present the information.
If not, then go for the reflect and keep it brief.
Character History. Go out writing and have a clean fight with your words.
Best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story.
Visit her at www.rachelhauck.com