Part 10: Backstory—the Heart of the Novel
Today’s blog reveals the heart of any book or film, the backstory. The backstory is a story that tells what led up to the main story or plot (as of a film). Like research, the backstory is needed to bring authenticity to characters—why they do what they do.
Readers want to care about the heroes and understand the motives behind the villains. If they plan to read an author’s books, they want to be taken away and immersed in their story-world.
The first reader who needs to be immersed in a story is the writer.
For me, and most authors I know, each of our main characters have backstories. The more complex the story, the more in-depth the backstory. We need a strong heart that pumps the lifeblood into the book.
We do this for you, the reader, but we also do this extra work for ourselves. By the time we finish our backstory, we know our characters personally. If I want to be transparent, sometimes I miss certain characters from previous books. How weird is that?
For Holding Hands, Elena—our protagonist—has a very complex backstory. The most complex of characters in the novel. I have to answer some difficult questions in this novel.
- What kind of person would hide their past—the good and bad—for ten years?
- How could someone love God, but not believe He could love them?
- How does shame impact a person’s behavior and faith?
- What kind of person could try to hide the arrival of someone from her past from her child and co-workers?
- Who influenced Elena enough so she knew how to nurture her own daughter, despite an abusive childhood?
- What kind of person would it take to get through to Elena and develop enough trust in them to be a friend?
- How could someone so damaged by life find love and trust again?
These are the types of questions I have to be able to answer and I have to know her well enough to write her “true” story.
The next most complex backstory I developed was for Denny, the antagonist.
- How did this man who had everything get lost in his own corruption?
- When did a little boy’s vulnerability get squashed by the parents who were too busy to spend time with him?
- Why does he continue to place himself in dangerous situations?
- Is there hope for someone so unlovable?
Micah, Neecey, Jenna, Olivia, Obadiah, Josh and Caleb, the father and grandmother, all have their stories. For this season, as I share this story, they are as real to me as anyone I know—because I know them. And, dear readers, I hope you will get to know them, too.
Next week: The last in the Holding Hands series—Your Questions.