A Character’s Life

In MAKE YOUR WORDS WORK, Gary Provost suggests writers show that the  main character has lived a life before the present time.  We have to avoid blocks of information by using backstory sprinkles, but how do we show that our characters go to movies, admire a high school teacher, or have  friends in Antarctica? Those details aren’t pertinent to the plot, however, they give us a glimpse of a real person instead of an actor we move through internal and external struggles.

I checked to see if I had included a little of Hada’s life as he advises. In one scene, Hada pays for a gift at a jewelry store, which is important to the plot. When she opens her coin purse, she remembers her son had given her that treasure several years ago when she was ill. That short remembrance gives the reader another clue about Hada’s past. It’s a tender moment that’s not important to the plot, but it offers a little more about her life before the present intense tension.

Outside of the jewelry store, she meets her old friend, Geborah, and they have lunch at Macy’s Cafe. With her internalization,  the reader finds out that she’s envious of Geborah for having a facelift. She’d like one too, but knows her husband wouldn’t think it necessary. Not an important detail to the plot, but the reader learns more about two friends in their seventies who wish to stay youthful.

Another detail about Hada’s past is that she loves to go to movies, although she doesn’t go to one in the novel, nor does she talk about specific ones she’s seen.  Nevertheless, in a couple of chapters, she flashes on someone looking like Clark Gable or Jimmy Stewart and she likes to pretend she walks as if she’s in a movie. Brief, one to two sentences filtered into a scene, not as backstory, but as quick  glimpses into her life before the present journey.



Filed under Characters, Writing Tips

5 responses to “A Character’s Life

  1. Fantastic suggestion. You stretch our writing abilities and make us think. Sometimes it hurts (and we complain) but in the end our writing grows. Growing pains.


  2. Stacey is right. You stretch our abilities, our imaginations, and our skills. Here I sit at the keyboard working on a piece that may go nowhere. It is almost midnight but I had this dream about a story line, it could be a short story. If I don’t get it down now, it will never materialize. It may be worthless, but unless I get a first draft, it will be less than worthless. Why do I care? My character is living a unique experience. I want to capture that and share it with Julaina and the muses. And it does hurt. I’m tired and want to sleep.

    Now excuse me, I have something to write.


  3. Ah, the life of a writer, midnight writing, three a.m. writing, backaches, head hurts, fingers stiffen, don’t ya love it?


  4. A great blog post Julaina. Thanks for pointing us to Provost’s reference. He’s spot-on right. Sprinkling backstories aren’t pertinenet to a story, however they are vital otherwise the flow of story gets one-dimensional stale. Backstories add complexity and richness to a character’s life, and they also illuminate the peel-away layers in a character’s arc. I can hardly wait to read your Hadda. I appreciate your writing tips, and now I’ll go back to my writing and have a third cup of coffee.


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