Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Handling Backstory

blog17I went to see the new Smurf movie with my daughter and her two friends yesterday. :)

When I go to kids’ movies, I try to be a good sport. I channel my inner child, I suspend my disbelief, I try to get into a sillier mood.

I’m aware that sometimes I might be a pain to go to the movies with, so I have a rule that I keep my mouth shut if I feel the need to be critical.

So when Gargamel dumped a huge load of Smurfy backstory on Azrael the cat, I just made a mental note of the transgression and didn’t make a peep.

It was a pretty obvious dump—he explained how Papa Smurf had 99 boy Smurfs and then ended up with one girl—Smurfette. It was information that, to me, was distracting. I’d always just assumed, as a casual observer (I was a little old for the Smurfs when they debuted on US TV…my little sister watched them) that Papa Smurf was some kind of tribal leader. Did I need to know that the Smurfs were related (except, as more backstory reveals later, Smurfette)? Not really.

These are some questions I ask myself when dealing with backstory: Is it necessary? Can I edit it out and not lose anything?

Can it be used suspensefully, if I need to include it? Can I reveal it later in the story and use the information to make readers turn pages to discover more?

Can I reveal the backstory to a newly introduced character in a more natural way?

Can I include a small amount in dialogue (without making it sound like Gargamel’s conversation with Azrael?)

Can a small amount be included with my character’s thoughts or in her memory?

Can I matter of factly slip in concise information as a tag? Mark’s sister, Tina, or Mark’s sister Tina was a nurse at the regional hospital.

And, by the way? If you’re nine, you’ll probably love the Smurfs. :)

How do you work in backstory?