By Laura M. Campbell
You know a quality story when you read it. The setting is so real you can smell the ash from burning or feel the coolness of lake water on your toes. The characters become more real with every sentence you consume, until they slowly slip off the page and intertwine with your life. Moments during lunch break or after the kids are sleeping are spent gossiping about which characters you love, which ones you secretly wish you could be and the characters you despise.
Reading about the present and future can’t simply attain this level of craft; you must create a relatable 3-dimensional being for your readers. They must have everything we have: a present, future and a past.
Backstory not only prepares your character to handle or falter in their present situation, but it also forges a path they will ultimately travel through the story or novel. What has your character dealt with in their past that has lead them to this moment? How did they grow up, and what effect will it have on the decisions they make in the future? What good or horrible things have they endured that motivate them today?
The February 2012 issue of the Smithsonian magazine published a profile piece on seismologist Lucy Jones and her strong campaign to educate and prepare West coasters’ for an inevitable and devastating earthquake.
Amidst the sentences detailing her life today, you come across the past that shaped her into this passionate woman. You find out her mother shielded 2-year old Lucy and her older brother and sister during an earthquake. Then a little further down, you find out that her life’s work might have been fated the day her great-great-grandparents were buried in the San Andreas fault.
Her past experience with earthquakes led her on a crusade to warn and protect people to save them from the pain and agony an earthquake can inflict. Although you don’t want to make the mistake of halting the forward momentum of the story by constantly stopping to fill the reader in on the characters past, you do want the past to influence their personality, movements, motivation and ultimately their future. The past should rarely, if ever, appear on the page, but it should resonate with every action your character makes.
What information about your character’s past has influenced their present and future in your story?