Backstory: A Rich Vein to Mine when your plot flags

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Plot is a means to show the journey of characters, their desires, and motivations. Backstory drives your characters. If your plot is failing you, it’s probably time to write out some backstory, even it’s only a few paragraphs on each major character. Focus on seminal experiences for each person.

Backstory is the motherload of ore that gives you answers to The Why. Whenever a character takes an action — and that should be often for essential characters, so we see them demonstrate agency — we always ask why they acted that way. Events make up at the heart of plot. But character journeys are the heart of story. We read books for story.

Once you uncover the characters’ desires, your plot will become a servant to your story’s people. For example, discovering and recounting the ground zero of a protagonist’s abilities — the genesis of a detective’s curiosity manifested in journalism, then the way it brushed up against police work, and how that became a new career finding the answers to questions — gives such a story meat on the bone.

Backstory is the way to learn the why about the protagonist’s failures, as well as the path to leap across the chasms to demonstrate new abilities. Story determines the choice of plot events, not the other way around.

Work done on characters, especially a hero and a villain, will give an author insights for good judgments. The villain really drives the story’s conflicts, so setting them out on paper or on the keyboard can help.

While you may not need to compose complete backstory stretches to appear in your book, you might be moved to do so in selected flashbacks. The flash describes the length of the passage as well as the sudden return to the past. It’s 2018. Keep it tight.

Composing backstory is genuine story development. Taking deeper dives into key characters will drive good judgments — from you as the author, as well as the judgments of the characters in the story.

Readers Want Plot. Accept It. Thrust It Into The Heart of Your Stories.

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Over at Writer Unboxed, Dave King advises us all to embrace the power to make things happen in our books and stories. Beauty in the writing is grand, yes. But the level of satisfaction — more important, the attraction to readers — rests upon things happening.

buffyIt’s so easy to go the other direction and make the world’s most exquisite sentences, paragraphs, the nuance of metaphor and simile dancing across our pages. You need good prose. But to grab readers you need a story — told through events we see, then seeing a character’s reactions to those actions.

King says, about one beautiful New Yorker story

In short, nothing happens.  It does it quite beautifully, but . . .

I understand why some people might love quality characterization and beautiful writing so much that they’re willing to read a story for these pleasures alone.  But most readers need something more to keep them going.  They want to hope that something good – or fear that something bad – will happen to characters they care about.  They want to watch those characters take action to change their fates. They want to be surprised.

They want plot.

This hunger for plot is, I think, one reason comics and YA fiction, and the movies based on them, are so popular.  The best practitioners of these arts know and value the power of story, and one of the best of these is Joss Whedon.  He’s the force behind the current revival of the Marvel Universe (The Avengers, the Agents of Shield), but the work I know him for best is the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

He goes on with specific praise for Whedon, one of the great storytellers of our time. Have a look at the article at Unboxed to see more.

Include action. Great books are plot plus story. Make readers want to pass along your book, and tell a friend how much fun it was to experience