backstory, the ruin of a good short story?
forgot to post yesterday, but this was something i was thinking about on Wednesday, actually. the work i did that day included a sketched outline of the latter half of the piece, which was great, and i discovered an unexpected motivation for the ‘antagonist’*; however, i also discovered what my protagonist’s father did for a living, as well as my protagonist’s first name — i’ve been calling him by his last name, apparently.
so? i hear you ask. what’s wrong with that? isn’t this important information? wouldn’t these things inform the motivation (the needs/wants, as the case may be)? isn’t this the stuff that turns cardboard cutouts into genuine people?
well, yes, of course it is. the trouble for me, though, is two-fold:
- this should really have been identified before i started the actual writing, to allow the story to use that inferred knowledge from the beginning. as it is, i will likely have to feed pieces in to the earlier points.
- i love this stuff. i love backstory. almost invariably, i start with an idea about a character or situation that seems interesting, then i work backwards, identifying the personal storyline that lead here, the plot/locale/world events that led to this particular situation, the cosmology that allowed for the evolution of said plotline and world-building, and so on. it’s one of the most fun parts about writing, for me.
– which is the problem.
#2 is the kicker for me. my ideas tend to bloom into ever-expanding intricacies, which, as history has shown, tends to push me toward the longer forms of fiction. so, it’s a personal revelation** to understand this primary obstacle to short fiction. i have a personal fascination (obsession?) with wanting to know why a situation is the way it is, how it fits into a larger context, et cetera, but, while i believe a story is best when its logical extensions (the ways in which it sits in its larger, unwritten environment) make sense, it generally dilutes the power of shorter pieces, because, to quote the young evil genius’ sister from the cartoon series of The Tick, there’s “too much ‘splaining!”
kind of like this post.
* single quote use will hopefully make more sense in final story
** though this is probably common knowledge to most others. *sigh*