When I began writing Topaz – Jewel of Desire I just wrote and let the story take me where it wanted. I posted a chapter twice a week for several months then once a week. When the story became too complicated, I lost where I was going, I stopped. Now I’m rewriting and reorganizing the beginning of Topaz. After the first rewrite, I realize I have a lot of backstory.
There’s Samard’s backstory, Abiya’s backstory, Yamie’s backstory, a very minor character, and a little of Tabisya’s backstory. All that before the plot kicks in.
It’s too much.
If you saw the series Firefly, you might remember the Shepherd Derrial Book. When we first meet Book in the two-hour pilot, we learn he has been living as a monk, but has decided to walk about in the outside world, or universe. By the end of the pilot, he’s shocked at what he has stumbled into. He contemplates returning to the safety of his monastery.
During the all too short TV series, we learn there is more to Shepherd Book than innocence.
When Sherperd is close to death, the Alliance medical ship will not admit him to their clinic. Even though the hero, Malcolm Reynolds, pleads for his life, they stand firm. But when Derrial Book shows them his identity card, they hustle him as if he is some important dignitary.
And we begin to wonder just who is this Shepherd?
Book is knowledgeable about the criminal world. An Alliance agent tells the crew Derrial Book is not really who he says he is. Because of the clues previously dropped about Shepherd Book’s past, we believe the agent.
In the movie Serenity, Malcolm Reynolds expresses a desire to know Shepherd past. Book emphatically declines. We wonder why? What does this faithful Christian man have to hide?
The creator, Joss Whedon knows Shepherd Derrial Book’s backstory. Therefore, he can drop hits that makes Shepherd mysterious, and make us salivate for more.
According to Wikipedia, Joss planned to reveal Book’s backstory throughout the series. Unfortunately, it was canceled ten years too soon. Book is still and interesting character even though we never know the whole story.
It’s important for an author to know the main character’s backstory, but it doesn’t all need to be told at one. It can be dropped into the plot bit by bit.
There are no hard-set rules on how to tell backstory. Sometimes, it is necessary to set the stage for the plot in the beginning, as in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.
When Tristran Thorn begins his journey, we already know about the wall that stretches between two worlds and about the magical world on the other side. Neil prepares us for the adventures his hero is about to encounter.
Other times, it makes for good suspense to slowly unfold the truth.
In the The Matrix, I didn’t know what was going on until half way through the movie. If I’d known about the aliens from the beginning, there would have been no mystery or suspense. On the other hand, the story would never have made sense if Agent Smith had not explained who the aliens were and how the Matrix was created.
I stuck with Matrix because I HAD to know what was going on. Someday, I hope to write a novel with that kind of page turning intensity.
But for now, I work on Topaz, Jewel of Desire …
So I have too much backstories. What to do? I must drop some of it. But how much? I’m afraid if I leave it all in the story might become boring and people will stop reading. But if I take it all out, people might not understand what’s happening. It would be nice if I could use some backstory to incorporate suspense and mystery. What to do?
Turn everything off … and think.
If you are interested, Sheperd Book’s backstory is now in a comic book published by Dark Horse Comic.