Writing the Backstory as Story

Backstory. In the past I’ve tried all manner of approaches, from making a list of points to creating a more formal outline to writing a narrative outline, which I still do for plotting. My method has now evolved again and I’ve taken to writing my backstory as an actual story, whether it’s ever published or not.

It’s the perfect solution for how my brain works, involves me with the characters, and is another opportunity to practice drafting. I also add a twist: I write it from a POV other than the protagonist in the story it’s preceding.

Courtesy: Pixabay

Courtesy: Pixabay

When I originally wrote Bk2 for my Carrdia series it went off the rails during NaNo2016. It was such a disaster I couldn’t face fixing it for a long while. In the meantime, for CampNaNo in 2017, I wrote a backstory story. I’d struggled with a couple of the side characters in Bk2 and (rightly) thought that if I explored them more it’d be easier to return to that second novel.

It was also the first time I added my twist and told it from the POV of characters other than my main protagonist, Riparia. It worked great. By treating it as an actual story I forced myself to not skim over the parts that were difficult and discovered much I hadn’t expected.

Not only did the resulting story make rewriting Bk2 easier during NaNo2017, but led to critical changes in Bk1. In the end, writing that backstory as a story provided me with another novel and enriched two others (and any that follow).

Ah, but it doesn’t end there.

This year I’ve been exploring the idea of a Pannulus series that would be more YA and center around an island group that has evolved differently from Carrdia.

Map: CA Hawthorne

Map: CA Hawthorne

One spark came from working on the Pannulus map and another from writing short stories centered there, especially the region around Vortex Gulf where natural magic is unusually strong. The two sparks started a fire. Possibilities jumped out of the bushes screaming until I couldn’t ignore them, then they became notes, then they became several short essays exploring the ideas, and then…

Oh, and then.

They became the backstory I’m currently working on. I’m still not committing to the series, but if what I’m writing now is any indication it’s sinking it’s talons deeper into my heart.

The series’ protagonist would be Vistanna (Vista) Ravinka Martavian, but as with the Carrdia backstory, this one is told from a different POV. It’s allowing me to ease into Vistanna’s life by looking at it from the outside first. In short, it tells the tale of how Vistanna and her adoptive mother, Tharlise (POV), come to be together.

What have I learned?
• The society possesses similarities with Earth circa 1920.
• Air travel is crucial because of the geography.
• There are splinter groups holding twisted ideas about certain minorities.
• Some potions represent an underground economy.
• Magic is embraced, but some aspects are regulated (potions).
• Those possessing specific gifts are zycons, including two types not found in Carrdia.
• The high concentration of natural magic suppresses the birth rate, leading to cultural pressure for people to produce at least one child.

Most important, I’ve learned a lot about Vistanna, who’s far from your typical 15 year-old fantasy heroine. When she’s introduced she’s struggling with a boy’s body, a hidden gift, and slated to be sacrificed on Scurpia Island by a powerful, twisted father. In addition, she lost her mother at age three, was abused by her brother, and has been a virtual prisoner most of her life.

It’s vastly different than the Carrdia stories and I’m relishing every minute. In fact, for this writer, it makes for a nice change and contrast.

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3 Replies to “Writing the Backstory as Story”

  1. Pingback: Writing Backstory as Story | Christina Anne Hawthorne

  2. I do something similar. I’ve found that it helps my story to write about things before and even after it. Great to see I’m not the only one doing something like it 🙂

    • You aren’t! If all I did was sit around waiting for inspiration to strike I wouldn’t come up with much. Instead, I’d become distracted with other things. I like to harness active inspiration (probably has something to do with my standup desk). Walking and the like help, but again there’s too much chance. Writing stories actively takes me where I need to go and can interact with the world and its characters. Boarding an airship atop a tower is easier to visualize when I experience it.

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