Friday, June 25, 2010

How much back story is enough?

I have asked myself so many times, what was Lauren's favorite color? How was Wilson's relationship with her grandparents? What year did Alejandro leave Spain? Questions that I might have answered in the books I have written, but did not take the time to write down in a character's bio page. Yeah, that's what I call them, character bio pages. I have to admit, I haven't done them for all the characters in each of my books, but I did one for Lauren and one for Wilson.

Now the question is when do I throw my hand in the air and say T.M.I.? What is too much information? The color of her socks as she leaves her house for the last time or what she ate for breakfast seems to me, a little over the top. However; if that information is essential in the plot development or moving the intentions of the character forward, than I would have written them down. But in my stories they don't.

I would be lying if I said it wasn't one of the best parts of creating a character. Think about it. I could make this person into anything I want. Good or bad, atheist or Christian, carnivore or vegetarian, anything, it is my choice. Yeah, it feels pretty powerful, like I'm holding the existence of people in my hands, but it also creates a sense of responsibility too. It's up to me to convince and convey that their world truly does exists and that she or he belongs in it.

So when one of my BFFs (who so generously read everything I have written) asked me why my character did what she did, I couldn't answer with, "I don't know."

Never was there a day where I could have gotten away with- just because. What made Wilson, at seventeen years old, have the maturity to handle not only the physical responsibility of a relationship with a man five years older than her, but the ability to rationalize theories in her mind of different events and scenarios that shaped her life. In other words, what events occurred in her life that made her who she was for those three days in Aspen? How old was she when her mother left? What month did her grandpa die? What was her favorite color, music, food, and where did she live before boarding school? The story of her life, I should know it like the back of my hand (Hey, where did that freckle come from?).

I guess the answer to my question of how much back story is enough, must be-- until I feel I know the character like I know myself. Every life shaping event, every painful mistake, every tear jerking moment, and every joyous triumph they have ever had in their life. It's that which brings them to where they live in the tens of thousands of words that I write as I create their world.

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