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Hello, I am Joy , this week's drama newsletter editor.
First a warm welcome to our new Drama Newsletter Editors, esprit and Adriana Noir .
It is so wonderful to see these two highly capable writer-friends here.
In this issue, we are going to talk about the importance of backstory in dramatic writing.
What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.
Logan Pearsall Smith, "All Trivia," Afterthoughts, 1931
Art begins with craft, and there is no art until craft is mastered.
Every great writer is a writer of history, let him treat on almost any subject he may.
Walter Savage Landor, Imaginary Conversation: Diogenes and Plato
A backstory shows what happened before the story started. It may be the history of a town, objects, or other elements or what happened to the characters earlier, which may influence their behavior and mode of action in the plot. The revelation of backstory secrets throughout the story helps enhance the drama in the action even if the story is in genres such as mystery, horror, and action-adventure.
Few stories start from the beginning of everything or everybody mentioned in the plot. In our time, short stories especially begin closer to the end. Until about fifty or so years ago, authors wrote several pages explaining a character’s backstory. Nowadays, we call this info-dump, and we try to avoid it no matter what.
Thus a backstory, if need be, works better if it is given in small doses and only when necessary. On the other hand, it is very important for the writer to be well aware of the backstory even if he never tells it to the readers. In real life, every person has a backstory or a past that influences his present and future. Knowing his characters’ past will enable the writer to present real people to his readers. In other words, the writer needs to know where his characters are coming from so he can use just the right words to express why the characters are acting the way they are acting.
In addition, to create depth and to kindle the imagination of the reader, the writer may choose only to hint at a backstory and leave shadow areas. This objective can be achieved best if the writer himself is familiar with the backstory in its entirety. For this, it is necessary to make character sheets for the primary characters with emphasis on internal traits and history sheets for the objects and the setting, especially if the objects or the setting are playing an important role throughout the plot.
All short stories, plays, and novels need backstories, but the writer does not need to push a backstory on the reader as a whole. There are instances, however, when the backstory needs to be told in one chunk, such as in novels as a prologue where an imaginary world is important to the plot.
Other methods of inserting the backstory are through flashbacks, discussions between the characters or a very short summary of past action somewhere inside the story. The rule of thumb is, stories work better if the backstory is inserted in the first half closer to the middle rather than in the very beginning or at the end. In addition, it is important to remember to make the story more exciting than the backstory, so the backstory does not overpower the plot.
If you are not sure of the importance of the backstory for the writer, do this exercise to convince yourself. Either write a story just to write the plot (what happened) with no regard to the backstories of the characters or the setting (you may use an already existing story if it lacks a backstory); or write a three sentence plot, first sentence for the beginning, second for the middle, and third for the ending. Then take the setting and the characters and give them backstories. Now write the story, giving it all you’ve got. You do not have to include the backstories, but you as the writer should know them as you write. I bet you’ll find that your story has gained a depth that wasn’t there before.
In the next issue, we’ll talk about flashbacks and different ways of inserting them in the stories.
Novellas and Novels
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Thank you for reading our newsletters and for supplying the editors with feedback. Now, let's take a look at a tip.
This Issue’s Tip:
Expository dialogue can become boring or dreadful:
"When I was a little boy," said Jim, "My mother..."
Stay away from expository dialogue or cut it short. Try giving the contents of what you want to say in a different way. For example:
Jim frowned, then thundered. " Your mother didn't resent you. Your mother didn't leave you on your own several days in a row when you were seven. Your mother didn't try to kill you. You know what? Mine did!"
Another fantastic newsletter, Joy! I loved this insightful edition on fools and the drama they incite. It seems all of us drama lovers have a bit of the fool in us...or around us!
Thank you very much, Adriana.
"In us or around us" is so true!
Mara ♣ McBain
What a unique Newsletter! I enjoyed the look at the different forms the fool may take as well as the peek at fools in history. You gave me something to think about! Thank you for featuring "Promise of Tomorrow" !
Thank you, Mara.
Fools are a lot of fun, since they only seem to be that most of the time.
I really enjoyed your topic of 'the fool' this time. I recently wrote one of these character, intending him to be very minor. But he developed into such a wonderful character that he became quite pivotal to the story. He even taught my main character a few things...
Thank you, Helen.
Yes, fools make good secondary characters, sometimes they even end up as protagonists; Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum comes to mind.
StephB 2013 Busy Bee
Joy! I love the idea of the fool. I read your newsletter and thought of the recent season of the Tudors where Henry's fool was the only person who could console him. Fools were/are important in that they can usually communicate something serious in a lighthearted way.
Yes, surely those court jesters were like barmen with open ears and an easy laugh. Come to think of it,in real life, not only the kings but also everyone may need to have a fool following him around.
Thank you for the description of (The Fool); what I like is a hard boiled detective who makes adlib jokes displaying his (supposed) toughness, as in response to a threat, he may say, "You don't scare me, I'm so tough, I squeeze heads like yours as I do cantaloupes checking for ripeness."
You just reminded of Chief Insp. Jacques Clouseau (Pink Panther) played by Peter Sellers.
Thank you for this newletter on Fools. I have just started out developing a story, because I had an idea for some characters that I wanted to "hang out" with. Reading your inttroduction to the newsletter, I realised that my antagonist was a little bit of a fool, and would be more interesting if I developed her as such. So, thank you. I will be reviewing my story with the plan to make my main character more "foolish" and hopefully more interesting and fun.
That is wonderful, Erelene. Happy to help. When your story is finished send us a link.
And thank you for the feedback.
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