Backstory on WIP Wednesday

mourning-picture-watercolor-and-gouache-on-silk-1810-nh-metpWe writers know a whole heap of stuff about our characters that never makes it into the final novel. We call it backstory, and every rounded character has one. The art is to trickle out just the facts the reader needs without making it boring, while hinting at further depth underneath.

So this week on WIP Wednesday, show me your backstory. It could be a scene that you have decided not to use, or it could be the trickle of facts that will probably make it all the way through to the final draft.

Whether the passage that follows will survive editing I don’t know. It’s the first few paragraphs of A Raging Madness, and I wrote them yesterday.

The funeral of the dowager Lady Melville was poorly attended—just the rector, one or two local gentry, her stepson Edwin Braxton accompanied by a man who was surely a lawyer, and a handful of villagers.

Alex Redepenning was glad he had made the effort to come out of his way when he saw the death notice. He and Gervase Melville had not been close, but they had been comrades: had fought together in Egypt, Italy, and the Caribbean.

Melville’s widow was not at the funeral, but Alex expected to see her when he went back to the house. Over the meagre offering set out in the drawing room, he asked Melville’s half brother where she was.

“Poor Eleanor.” Braxton had a way of gnashing his teeth at the end of each phrase, as if he needed to snip the words off before he could stop chewing them.

“She has never been strong, of course, and Mother Melville’s death has quite overset her.” Braxton tapped his head significantly.

Ella? Not strong? She had been her doctor father’s assistant in situations that would drive most men into a screaming decline. She had followed the army all her life until Melville sent her home—ostensibly for her health, but really because she took loud and potentially uncomfortable exception to his appetite for whores. Alex smiled as he remembered the effects of stew laced with a potent purge.

Melville swore Ella had been trying to poison him. She assured the commander that if she wanted him poisoned he would be dead, and perhaps the watering of his bowels was the result of a guilty conscience. Ella was the closest to a physician the company had since her father died. The commander found Ella innocent.


7 thoughts on “Backstory on WIP Wednesday

  1. Oh, how I love Work-in-Progress Wednesdays – and not just for the opportunity to share my own work! I love seeing how you lovely ladies are faring, too!

    I thought I was going to include a prologue because Disney’s B&B has the curse prologue, but I realized it isn’t necessary because I have the PERFECT place to work it in as BACKSTORY (amazing how this worked out)… So what I am sharing is the cut prologue that will become backstory!

    I hope it isn’t too long. I never seem to realize how much I’m sharing!

    *** As always, this completely raw, and frankly, reading it again, I’m glad to nix it!! ***

    “It cannot be, Major.” She paused to clear her throat, then continued, this time in a voice which said she had cast aside all pretenses, “You did not really believe it could, did you?”

    “What? Is this to be my fault, then? How dare I, the bastard son, and a common soldier at that, dare set his hopes on a vision such as yourself? Is that it?” Turning, Rupert sneered in her direction.

    They faced each other, the expanse of the room not the only distance between them. This time, it was Rupert who looked away first, as he found her no longer to his taste, almost tarnished somehow. Even the thought of her name left a sour taste in his mouth.

    As his eyes roved the room, he caught sight of himself in the mirror. Yes, the scarred mess of his eye was frightful until one grew used to it, but he could put a patch over it, were it really of concern.

    “Tell me, Eloise, who is it that has so turned your head?” A sense of calm came over him, and he splashed more whisky into the glass.

    “I – that is, no one. I’ve no idea what you mean.” She batted her large blue eyes at him, but she lied. He knew it, and he did not care. He found a sense of calm had come over him, and he felt absolutely nothing for this spoiled female.

    No, not nothing. Pity. He felt nothing but pity for her. And the fool she would eventually snare.

    “Yes, well, may your life with… no one .. be as exciting as you deserve, my dear.” He raised his glass in salute before throwing back his head and swallowing the contents in one fell swoop.

    She flushed rather prettily, but readied herself to leave. “I am sure you will find a way to explain the change in our agreement, Major?”

    “You would have me accept blame? No, I think not. You want out of this arrangement, then you shall face the blame, too.” A flash of movement outside the open library door caught his attention, and he swore under his breath. “Best get on with it, too. I expect that news of your visit will soon be fodder for gossip.”

    “You would not dare ruin my name in revenge.” Scarlet flushed up her cheeks, and a new storm of tears threatened in her eyes. “W – would you? Monster!”

    “I would have to care in order to want revenge, and I find myself utterly devoid of care as far as you are concerned.”

  2. Backstory is tough. This one is from my WIP The Renegade Wife

    “I met Jonny,” Rand said, accepting a third glass of port.
    “I expected you would. He spends a much of his time at Chadbourn House.”
    “He is a bright boy. You must be proud of him.” Rand gripped his glass. Should I mention his illness? he wondered. He had no idea how comfortable Charles might be with the subject.
    “I am. He endures his illness with courage and grace.”
    Rand relaxed somewhat. “I wasn’t sure— That is, Catherine told me. I’m so sorry, Charles. It must be devastating for you, and for Julia.” He meant every word, and was distressed to see Charles stiffen.
    “I manage. I have no idea about Julia,” Charles said through tight lips.
    Rand raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
    “I haven’t seen Julia in two years. She hasn’t seen Jonny in longer. I have no idea how she ‘manages.’” He looked directly at Rand. “Don’t look at me like that Randolph Wheatly. We separated a year after we married. It happens. If you stayed you might have delighted in my misfortune.”
    Charles glared at Rand who could think of nothing to say. When the silence became painful Charles sank back in his chair. “Don’t worry. Though it seems unlikely Jonny will never be duke, know that he is loved. I love him as if he were my own.” His voice rose when he continued, and an emotion Rand couldn’t identify gave force to his words. “He is my own. Don’t try to say otherwise.”
    “What are you implying, Charles? Of course he’s your son. You were eager enough to bed his mother.”
    “I didn’t touch Julia until our wedding night. Jonny came into this world six months later. What do you think I’m implying?”
    Something uncurled in Rand’s chest. His cousin may be many things, some unpleasant, but he wasn’t a liar. Rand’s dearly held belief that Charles seduced Julia while he knew—he had to know—that Rand still held hope of a betrothal crumbled into dust.
    “But who then?” Rand’s confusion muddled his thoughts and thickened his speech.
    “You dare ask me that? You’ve seen my son. The family resemblance is unmistakable—and thank God for Jonny’s sake.”
    Awareness, when it finally came, left Rand breathless. He shook his head. “Not me, Charles. I am not that boy’s father.”

  3. Such a great topic. Thanks so much for opening up your website. Balancing backstory is always tricky. This is from the first chapter of my curent WIP in my Holiday With Love Series: The One. The heroine is telling her mom she’s not coming to Thanksgiving dinner.

    Addie snatched off her goggles intending to set them on the table not send them clattering to the hardwood floor.

    Momma stared at her. “It’s not like you to go around dropping things. What if you’d dropped that knife? You might have cut your foot off.”

    Better to lose a foot than break Momma’s heart. That could neither be helped nor avoided any longer. “I’m not coming to Thanksgiving dinner this year.”

    “Of course you’re coming. Do you have a date yet?” Momma beamed like a kid opening their first present on Christmas morning. Since she’d been good all year, surely Addie would bring her a son-in-law.

    “I won’t need a date because I won’t be here.”

    Momma’s smile evaporated. Her eyes glistened and probably not because of the onions. “Where will you be?” she asked in a small voice.

    Good question. “Away.”

    Momma sat back. “Away? With who?”

    “Myself. I need time alone to think. People do it all the time.”

    “People do. You don’t.”

    No argument there. Just because she never had was all the more reason why she should. Living in Fort Lauderdale gave her a lot of options to get out of town: plane, train, even a cruise. Naw, not a cruise. All those people crammed together, carrying who knows what, on a ship registered who knows where, anything could happen.

    Anything beat spending Thanksgiving here. She still teared up just looking at the dining-room table. Worse would be all the hugs and the “poor Addies.” As if last year weren’t enough, she’d look pathetic in front of the whole family, again.

    She wasn’t poor Addie. By any standard she had a great life. Promoted to director earlier this year, a beautiful condo in Colee Hammock, loyal friends.

    Being surrounded by her parents and aunts and uncles and cousins while they celebrated their love would make her the object of their pity, a throwback to another era: the old maid.

Love hearing from you