Backstory on WIP Wednesday

One of the tricky tasks an author has to manage is to tell those crucial bits of history a reader needs to sympathise with the hero or heroine, or despise the villain. But what to do? Hint and let the reader guess? Have the character explain themselves to another? Do a flashback in memory? Jump between present and past entirely?

All can work, or can be disastrous.

This week, on WIP Wednesday, I’m inviting you to post excerpts that carry your backstory. Mine is from A Raging Madness. Ella is telling Alex about her first marriage, which he had observed as a fellow officer.

He had seen the signs and ignored them, told himself that he had no right to interfere between husband and wife, told himself that she had made her bed and could lie in it. Arrogant, conceited pup. Twenty-one years old and full of his own pain. He hated that long-ago version of himself nearly as much as he hated Melville. Long ago? He had been believing lies against her as recently as two months ago.
“I often thought of sending him into the thick of battle, like David did to Uriah the Hittite. I should have done it.”
Ella, her eyes soft, reached up and kissed his chin. “Was I your Bathsheba then? I am flattered.”
“Always, Ella. My guilt made me cruel to you. I cannot tell you how sorry I am.”
Her eyes rounded and she shook her head. “No, Alex. You were always kind and polite. Distant. Disapproving sometimes. But I knew I could rely on you. I do not think I could have survived after Dadda died if not for you.” Her eyes filled with tears, and he bit back the self-recriminations. He did not deserve her praise, but nor was he selfish enough to deny the comfort her memories gave her in order to seek his own absolution.

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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 trickleĀ 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.

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