Sunday, 24 April 2011
Backstory and Royal Weddings
Someone very wise once said we don't know who we are now unless we study our past. That's why backstory has an important place in the stories we tell.
A few months ago, when the impending Royal Wedding was announced, I was somewhat astonished at the largely negative reaction I saw on the boards I frequent. Why would anyone react this way about celebrating a happy event? After all, William and his betrothed are young, glamorous and photogenic. It's an extra day off work for many people and a moment of glory in these hard recession-weary times.
But I too had those sinking feelings, and I know exactly why. Anyone who is old enough will remember the marriage of his father and mother, nearly 30 years ago. That too was a big production - Hollywood couldn't have done it better - and for months before it was all over the media. On the day crowds lined the streets and everyone tuned in to watch. It was sold as a fairytale wedding and it certainly looked like it.
In the years that followed people gradually woke up to the fact that it had been a sham. The groom was marrying to please his family and had no great love for his bride, in fact he was heavily involved with a married friend. Of course their personal lives are their own business, but what makes me bitter is the way the public, who paid for this sideshow, were completely lied to for years until the marriage ended in bitter divorce.
All of which serves to illustrate the importance of backstory. We need to know something about the background of a character in order to understand the story happening now, simply because events of the past shape us as people. Of course that doesn't mean a complete biography, and the skill lies in getting that balance between giving enough information with moving the story forward.
But never underestimate the importance of backstory in helping your reader understand who your character is today.