Backstory on WIP Wednesday

Backstory gives our books depth and texture. Backstory is the stuff we know about the characters and their lives that never finds its way onto the page. Some writers I know do very little backstory. Others have whole histories and landscapes that exist in their imaginations and notebooks, and that influence the story but don’t appear in it.

I lean in the second direction, not least because I find it impossible to understand a character’s motivation without understanding the influences that made her who she is.

This week, I’m inviting you to tell me a bit of the backstory of one of your characters or locations. Mine is from Lord Calne’s Christmas Story, my new Christmas novella, and is about the relationship between my hero, Philip Daventry, the new Earl of Calne, and his uncle Brigadier General Lord Henry Redepenning.

Lord Henry links the latest novella to my Golden Redepenning series.

Lord Henry Redepenning met Lord Hugo Daventry at school. Both were younger sons of earls. Both were destined for, and looking forward to, a future in the military, as officers in a cavalry regiment. They became fast friends.

In due course of time, in a London ballroom, they met Miss Susana Blanchard, older daughter of Admiral Blanchard, and both fell in love. To Society, either young man was a good match for the granddaughter of shopkeepers, though her father’s rank and their own lesser position in their families made it acceptable. They waited and watched to see if the two close friends would fall out over the maiden.

But they were to be disappointed. If Hugo’s heart was broken when Susana chose Henry, he hid it well. Indeed, the friends were closer than ever, with Susana included in their charmed circle, and Hugo assured Henry that his feelings had turned brotherly. If it had not been true at the start, it was certainly true the day he came to visit his friends and met Susana’s sister, Arabella.

Arabella was seven years Susana’s junior, and just out when she was introduced to her brother-in-law’s dearest friend, whom she had adored by report since her sister’s Season. He was everything she expected and more. Arabella’s worship-from-afar soon turned to something warmer and more personal.

Hugo found that Arabella was as lovely as her sister and three times as adventurous. Where Susana was happy to stay at home with her growing family, Arabella spoke of following the drum, her eyes sparkling with excitement. By the end of his visit, Hugo was deeply and irrevocably in love.

And so the two friends married two sisters. Henry and Susana created a haven for their five children and other family and friends, a place to be cherished and restored. Hugo and Arabella raised their son and daughter in army camps across the globe, enjoying the travel and adventure. Two very different couples, but firm friends, even to the next generation.

Nearly none of that is in the novella. But I needed it anyway.

Your turn.

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9 thoughts on “Backstory on WIP Wednesday

  1. Thanks, Jude. I’m not exactly a fan of backstory. Just my opinion, but I say an author should focus on what happens during the story. That’s where the interesting stuff should go on.

    If the backstory is all that interesting, it shouldn’t be backstory. The author should restructure the plot so that the good stuff is part of the main narrative.

    I see countless romances that are heavy on backstory—too heavy, if you ask me. The most interesting events and situations in the lives of the protags, usually the most miserable ones, take place before the hero and heroine meet in chapter one.

    They spend much of the rest of the story thinking and talking about these past woes. Which provide the reasons why these two can’t simply fall in love and come together readily. Nothing that happens in the actual story is anywhere near as interesting.

    Many if not most readers and writers love this sort of romance. Needless to say, I’m not one of them. And there should be romances for the rest of us.

    Just a dissenting opinion! I’m not going to tell any fellow reader/writer what she should or shouldn’t read/write.

    • I tend to agree. In at least three of my books, I’ve found the backstory so important to the plot, that I’ve rewritten the beginning so the backstory becomes story. Even where I don’t include the backstory, though, I need to know it. The example above, in my post, isn’t in the story at all, except in the most fleeting allusions. But I needed to know how Philip and Lord Henry were connected, and why Lord Henry, who is not related except by marriage, is Philip’s trusted adviser. Little to none of that is in the story, but if it didn’t make sense to me I couldn’t get my characterisation right.

  2. Somewhere in the bowels of my laptop I have four versions of one story. In it four boys meet for the first time. I wrote it from all four points of view, with some hints about family background in each. I wrote them years before I published.

    Viscount Rochlin (Will) heir to the Earl of Chadbourn, single handedly faces down a crowd of bullies abusing a younger boy, a scholarship student. He’s quite young himself.

    Andrew Mallet, also a scholarship student (and a famously brilliant one), two years older and much bigger, steps in to stand at his shoulder.

    At the same time another older boy, the Marquess of Glenaire (Richard) heir to the Duke of Sudbury witnesses the event and admires Will’s courage. He steps in as well, and his very presence sends the bullies scattering.

    Standing on the edge of the crowd, Jamie Heyworth, heir to Baron Ross, who is Will’s age, watches the action keenly. He had been a hanger on of the bully group, as much for his own protection as anything. He admires what he sees; he wants it for himself. The protection of Glenaire wouldn’t hurt either. He crosses the courtyard to stand with Will.

    Thus I had the heroes of my Dangerous Series, who also wander with their progeny through Children of Empire.

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