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.

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Quarrels on WIP Wednesday

This week is about quarrels. Or fights, or arguments, or any kind of disagreement. It might be serious or trivial, between secondary characters or protagonists. But quarrels are a frequent element of storytelling, a way to display character, disclose unexpected plot points, and ratchet up the tension. 

As always, I’m inviting you to share your excerpt in the comments.

My piece is from The Realm of Silence, the next book in the Golden Redepennings. 

Once they had asked every question they could think of in several ways each, they let the boy go. Gil had requisitioned a private parlour for their interview, but of course Susan could not remain here alone with him. Nor could she follow her burning urge to leave immediately for the answers that must surely lie in Stamford; not on a moonless night. She would thank Gil for his help and go up to her room.

As if he heard her thoughts, Gil turned from a low-voiced conversation with the inn-keeper’s stout daughter and said, “I’ve ordered us a dinner. No point in us leaving until the morning.”

The urge to stay surprised Susan with its strength and made her refusal less graceful than it might have been. “I cannot have dinner alone with you, Lord Rutledge.”

A flicker of uncertainty before the granite face settled again. “Do you want to send for your maid? To protect your name?” His voice was as calm and emotionless as ever, and it was unfair of her to read a sneer into that last remark.

“I do not have a maid with me. Just my groom. He has a room above the stables.” She had sent her other carriages on ahead when she chose to detour to Cambridge, figuring she and Amy could have lunch together before Susan followed her younger children and her servants to London.

Gil regarded her gravely, and Susan waited for him to berate her for foolishness, impetuosity, or arrogance in thinking she could run her own life as she pleased, and without the interference of a man. But he merely nodded once. “And my man is entirely trustworthy. So if you sit down and eat, no one but you and I will know. And you need to eat. Have you eaten today?”

Susan was about to disclaim appetite when her stomach made her liar by rumbling with considerable enthusiasm. Was that a twinkle in Lord Rock Ledge’s eye? Surely not.

She surrendered, at least this battle, returning to the seat she had just vacated. “Very well. But I shall pay for my own meal.”

Gil made no reply. Just took his place in the chair on the other side of the hearth, as two maids carried in laden trays and began transferring their contents to the room’s table.

While the servants set the dishes out, and laid a place for each of them, Susan made some commonplace remarks about the weather during her journey from Wessex, and Gil said nothing. Was he even listening? She seemed to have his attention; certainly he did not move his gaze from her; barely blinked. But what thoughts seethed under that still surface? Even as a boy, he had been grave and silent, speaking seldom but always to good purpose.

As he did now, as soon as the maids left the room, closing the door behind them.

“So by now your other children are safely at home in London with their nurse. I will go after Miss Cunningham and Miss Foster, of course, but you had better come with me.”

“Come with you? I am going alone, with my groom. I am not your problem to solve, Lord Rutledge. My daughter is not your problem to solve.” He might look like a stone carving, all hewn planes and angles, but he had never been a fool. Surely he must realise how impossible it was for the two of them to travel together.

Gil stood. “We should eat.” He suited action to words by pulling out a chair at the table, standing with one hand on the back, waiting for Susan to take her place. It would be childish and counter productive to refuse to sit, purely because he expected her to do so. She quelled but did not extinguish the spirit of opposition that consumed her whenever one of the men in her life tried to organise her. She would eat with him, but he would not be coming north with her.

 

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