Backstory in WIP Wednesday

One of the most challenging skills in the writer’s arsenal involves the backstory. We need readers to know what led to the circumstances of the plot; what made the characters the way they are; what secrets they hide, perhaps even from themselves. But, by definition, the backstory is the events that happened before the story we’re telling. How much do we tell? How much ‘telling’ is going to disturb the flow? How can we weave backstory into our writing so that it illuminates rather than drowns?

So this week’s WIP Wednesday is for excerpts with backstory. I’ll show you mine, and you show me yours in the comments. I have two bits from The Realm of Silence, showing Gil’s and Susan’s relationship from each POV.

First, Gil:

The traffic thinned as they left the town, crossing the bridge into the country. Gil held his horse to the rear of the phaeton, giving silent thanks for the rain in the night that had laid the dust. He had little hope that staying out of Susan’s sight would lessen her ire. Any man would understand that he could not let a female relative of his oldest friends wander the roads of England on her own.

A female would not understand the duty a man had to his friends. And the goddess—her appeal in no way dimmed today by the carriage coat covering her curves—was very much a female. He would not revisit his reasons for insisting on escorting her. He’d spent long enough in the night cross-examining himself. Duty was reason enough, and the rest was irrelevant.

It was true that, for twenty-seven years, since she was a child of ten and he a mere two years older, he’d been prepared to move heaven and earth to be near her. It was also true that his heart lightened as he rode further from his responsibilities in the southwest. Not relevant. He was her brothers’ friend and her cousin’s, and therefore he would keep her from harm and help rescue her daughter.

And then Susan’s, several pages later.

“If you ride with me in the phaeton, we can discuss our strategy.” It would be a tight fit. The phaeton was not designed for three. Still, Lyons could go up behind. But Gil was shaking his head.

“No room. And your man won’t last half an hour on the footman’s perch. He should be retired, goddess.

“Don’t call me that!” He had made her childhood a misery with that nickname. One long summer of it, anyway. She had still worn the ridiculous name her parents had bestowed on her. Not just Athene, though that would have been bad enough. Joan Athene Boaducea. Jab, her brothers called her. But when Gil and two other boys had come home from school with Susan’s cousin Rede, Gil dubbed her ‘the goddess’. It had become Jab the Goddess, and she had been forced to take stern measures to win back the space to be herself.

She glared at him. To be fair, he had not been part of the tormenting; had even tried to stop it. But she could not forget that it was his mocking remark that set it off.


2 thoughts on “Backstory in WIP Wednesday

  1. Hers::

    In those days Annie had not been so prim; she had not hesitated to kilt up her skirts above the knee in order to wade in the stream, or lounge on the grass getting freckled from the sun. Together they had done all the things that children usually did to get muddy and tear their clothes, without regard to her female gender. He and Freddie had even, on one memorable occasion, taught her how to punch straight without injuring her hand, knowledge which they had been sure would come in handy at some time. She had proved that point immediately by punching Stephen in the nose and breaking it when he said she would hardly need to get rid of unwanted suitors with all those freckles on her nose. For which sin they all were confined to their respective nurseries on bread and water for several days.


    But when she had married Stephen in spite of everything the friendship had perforce to change.
    At the time he had been glad that things were in train for the purchase of his commission: it had meant he could leave Somerford with something to look forward to. He had never come back to his home on leave, even from the Peninsula, preferring to spend his time in Lisbon with fellow-officers. And he had enjoyed most of his time in the army. He had been more lucky than many of his comrades, and had never been badly injured, or caught any of the various fevers that had raged through the camps at times. The worst thing that had happened was having his favourite horse from home, Beau, shot beneath him. On the whole, he felt, though individual parts of the subsequent years had been hot, cold, wet, muddy, and uncomfortable, he had spent his time better in India and Spain than he would have as a younger son back home, idle and without purpose.

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