My daughter and I were riding down the road in the car and she was chattering about one of her favorite subjects—birthdays and birth places. She’s very impressed with herself that she was born in a Charlotte, North Carolina, hospital since the rest of the family was born elsewhere.
“You were born in South Carolina,” she said. “In Anderson.”
“Actually, no. I was born in Fort Benning, Georgia.”
There was a look of great surprise on her face. “At a fort? Why?”
“Well, honey, there was a war going on---Vietnam. And Papa was in the Army.”
“Papa was in the Army?!?!?!” I can’t really overemphasize her statement, despite the ridiculous number of exclamation and question marks I just used. “What was he doing in the Army?”
“He was a lieutenant. He taught people how to shoot guns.” Big guns.
It was a shock. She knows her Papa as a mild-mannered English professor in his early 60s. He writes extremely well, edits well, and makes astute analyses on English literature. To her, he was not some gun-toting, camo-wearing soldier during the Vietnam era.
We all have these different facets to ourselves. We wear lots of different hats. And in the past we’ve been different things—I’ve worked in a bank before. I didn’t like it, but it’s part of who I am. An unhappy part. :)
I try to show my characters as people with different facets to them, too. If you’ve got a sleuth who is just a crime fighter, then the reader gets a one dimensional impression of your protagonist.
All these little bits of our past contribute—in good and bad ways—to the person we are now.
Introducing the past can be done casually in a book, without dumping a lot of backstory. My protagonist, Myrtle Clover, is introduced as a retired English teacher. The reader isn’t surprised when she tries to force her book club to ditch chick lit. My protagonist Lulu Taylor, was raised by her aunt and spent her childhood at her aunt’s barbeque restaurant. Now she treasures her family and that restaurant over anything—and is prepared to protect them when some become murder suspects.
With a little bit of set-up, we can take our characters in different directions, and show a different side to them.
And, on a separate note, I’d like to offer a sincere thanks to all veterans as those of us in the States observe Veterans Day.