Is a backstory even necessary?

The backstory… Such an elusive term. What is it? I mean really, when do I use it? I’m not saying this to be cute, by the way, because I have many instances where I’m writing something and the backstory is more interesting than the story itself and I ask myself, was I wrong? Have I been influenced by others to such a degree that I don’t know when my stories begin anymore?

Writing has rules, I try not to learn them, though some are pretty useful, others are more restrictive than helpful.

Some stories doesn’t need a backstory at all! At least not a very comprehensive one while others need more before you can tackle the story itself in a truthful manner; like character motivation and such. It’s all about finding the truth and be honest with yourself when writing.

Sometimes characters do things that makes you confused, you have to find out why he does this rather than have him act unnaturally, because characters sometimes have lives of their own, regardless what you want them to do.

If your backstory is deep, the problem then arise how much you want to show. Generally, you wanna sprinkle it out throughout the story but sometimes you just want to make an entire book about it, like the Silmarillion.

So, again, when does the story start? In my experience, you’re right the first time. The story has a core, the thing that made you want to write the story to begin with. That’s where the interesting part of the story begin so you should probably follow that intuition and go with it. I once wrote a story with three different plots because I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew the main character would end up on a haunted island at some point, but I didn’t have any ideas who he was and how he ended up there. I started the story when he sets foot on the island and the rest should work out from there.

Writers High

I often wondered why I write. If I write for myself, writing stories become quite easy because you only write for your own curiosity’s sake and most scenes happen in your head. However, for me, writing means change and when I try to write so that somebody else can understand me, the story take strange turns. There are also an inherent pleasure in polishing your work. Editing is fun, writing pretty sentences is exciting. So I guess I write because it is enjoyable.

Furthermore, everything that matters is challenging. Things doesn’t go according to plan and you solve problems. These moments might be stressful at first but they are also fun to overcome. I could never spend all my freetime turning off my brain, watching movies; shows. It has been running at high speed for too long. I’d become mute and docile and then you might as well be dead.

Speaking of media, it is very hard to keep my attention, these days. I suspect writing is much more exciting than watching and playing someone else’s work, although there are the exceptions, of course. Mostly those shows, movies, games and books that manages to spark my own imagination. I always write down ideas whenever I have those moments, good or bad. I dunno if I’ll ever return to those ideas but if I didn’t write them down, they would cease to exist and I like to believe they happen to me for a reason.

I don’t have a particular point with this post, I was just feeling especially happy today.

The path to writer

I never wanted to be a writer. I don’t think I ever wasted a thought on it at all while growing up, so why do I want to now? I never wrote anything substantial on my free time. I just played games and studied. At college I studied political science because I was curious, so I guess I wasn’t totally avert to reading and writing…

Life pushed me to become a writer.

At the last year of my Masters program I started having trouble sleeping. I’d be up all night thinking what I’d do after graduating. I didn’t want to be a teacher or do research, so what other options did I have?

I made a list what I could possibly do and writing was one of them, at least I wanted to give it a shot. After finishing my studies I spent 6 months in Cambodia as a volunteer. I saw this as buying time and I wrote a novel on my spare time. It was so easy, it was a hero’s journey with worldbuilding and everything and I ended up with a 100 000 word manuscript. That seemed to seal the deal; that’s what I was gonna do.

But when things come easy at first you get really disappointed when things get hard, which was the case from here on out. I worked hard to understand my craft and I have a pile of unfinished novels to prove it. I was under the delusion that I could finish them when I got better, but you can’t write a novel unless you try finish one, no matter how bad it end up.

I was way to ambitious too. Writing a novel is not gonna happen when you don’t have the skill to back it up. I don’t know how I managed to write my 100 000 word manuscript when I did. I haven’t returned to it yet, maybe it’s awful but finishing is an accomplishment also. What I had to do was start smaller. Flash fiction was the key, 1k words, and it took many years before I managed to work my way up to a 5-6000 manuscript.

I wasted a lot of time trying to write those novels only to abandon them…

I am now at around 20 000 words and I’m slowly climbing my way higher, grasping the complexity that is writing a novel. I’ll get there eventually and then I can finish my pile of failures and never look back.

Trying to be Like Stephen King

I’ve read Stephen King’s book on writing a few times now. What he says makes a lot of sense, but there’s one thing that he and I are fundamentally different. 

He seems to be able to work out a story from the get go and then he cuts it down to make it readable to an audience. To me, it’s more like building the story up, like I slowly reveal my story, like a sketch, maybe?

I guess it depends on the idea. Sometimes it’s so very vague that I have to rewrite and rewrite until I have a foundation to go on. And even then I do a lot of rewrites. I don’t cut, I add, because what I write at the beginning is sparse already. 

Well I do cut, but just to replace it with something better. My process is inherently messy, it seems and I do my best to find a way to improve, which is why I look to other writers for inspiration.

Stephen Kings writing speaks to me. His style and wordings are great, but I do dislike his stories, they are god awful! Haha, the plot is so dumb, I swear…

Stephen King liken stories as finding a fossil and developing the tools so that you can uncover it without destroying it. I guess I’m that way too, I find stories and I never plot. I just start writing and see what the characters are up to. The story is there and it’s my job to find it.

Figuring out the writing process Part 2

I belive you use different parts of your brain (or at least have different mindsets) depending on which phase of the story you’re writing. For instance, the drafting phase seem more open, like watching the landscape from afar… I dunno how to explain it. You are more open to ideas and you think of the story as a whole.

Ideally, you then take your story to the next phase, which is much like the first, only you look a bit deeper into what’s happening. Meaning you don’t skip scenes, add dialogue and descriptions. You zoom in on the landscape, basically.

The plot is still subject to change, but hopefully if you were throughout, there are no major changes.

Afterwards, there’s the editing phase, which is the easiest part if you did everything right. The heavy lifting is done and the foundation is complete, now you can concern yourself with sounding good for the readers, working on one sentence at the time. You zoom in very close.

This is of course if everything goes according to plan, which they never do so there will be bumps on the road, but hopefully you have the tools to handle the changes professionally.

Figuring out the writing process

I’ve had a lot of trouble finishing stories and I don’t really knew why. I thought maybe I was inadequate or the story itself was bad. But I think I now know what my problem is. I sometimes forget to make it entraintaing… How’s that possible even? Well, I’m lazy, and when I’ve established the plot I’m very hesitant to make changes because it means extra work, which ironically means more work in the end because I try to work around it the issue instead of trying to solve it.

The solution to this is to make the plot solid from the beginning but it’s very hard to stave away all the ideas that come up while writing, and with more and more scenes without a solid plot the story becomes convoluted. The solution for THAT problem would be to decide what the story is about as early as possible before you write too much.

I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, but I write very little when drafting. I dunno if it’s because I’m lazy as I said before but it might help establish the plot early before I write too far. The first draft is rarely more than a couple thousand words long and the second is often 5 or 6 thousand and it gets longer and longer from there…

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but writing about it extremely therapeutic, especially when I have to explain it to somebody other than myself. Thanks for reading ❤

I get Carried away

So, back story is important right? It fleshes out the characters and we get to know them better. I guess back story doesn’t happen on the first draft, but on the second, when you try to make the story more coherent. 

I have a bad habit of making stories out of back stories, meaning they can be read as a whole different story, and is sometimes, unrelated to the first one. I mean, that’s how you discover the back story right? The same way you write your first draft? How else would you do it…

I guess the problem is that the back story sometimes is more, or equally, as interesting as the story itself. Does that mean the first story is flawed in some way? Because, back stories aren’t supposed to be that interesting…

A back story should be sprinkled out and shown throughout the story and perhaps my problem is that I’m over developing it. 

It’s fine if the only thing I know about the main character is that he ran away from home because he came from a dysfunctional family and that his father didn’t want children to begin with. I don’t need to go deeper than that, do I?

I guess I get easily carried away ones I begin.

Dream Scenario

Confused, is the word I’d use for writing so far. I’m the very definition of ‘winging it’ and I have to say, it haven’t gone that well. I’ve abandoned several stories and now I’m putting all my efforts into learn my craft. Writing isn’t the problem anymore, sticking with it and not being confused while I do it, is. So, with the help of Stephen King I’ve organised a dream scenario in how stories should be handled. Things are never that simple, however, but it might be good to have this in mind and to fall back on when things start to become a tad bit too complex.

The idea is based on a situation. I put characters through a problem which they try to solve. The story will reveal itself has they wriggle themselves out of it.

After the first draft, I put it away and work on something else until I’ve almost forgotten about it. 

Then I reread it, I take notes and then begin the second draft where I make the story more coherent and find out why I wrote it and what’s it really about?

Then I edit and make it nice for the readers, the so called ‘Open Door Phase’ where I take away anything that isn’t the story and the boring bits. 

I’d probably go over it again a last time to make sure the language is right and I haven’t made a lot of mistakes. 

Then it’s of to the publishers!

Instant success!

Creative VACUUM

When I first moved into my small studio apartment I was on top of the world! I wrote everyday for hours. Having an apartment was exciting, but as of late, writing have become a chore, and I suspect my environment is part of the problem. I have a big TV and a computer and I use them everyday. Though I can rarely sit through movies and TV-shows I can play games for hours on end. Not for 6 hours straight, but maybe 2 or 3? I read a lot too, but no more than half an hour – an hour at the time. Anyway, my home have become my relax space and I feel like I’d be more productive in a shed at this point… And, you know, I can’t really get rid of all my things, can I?

Perhaps I can go outside and write? Writing in a cafe is what writers do, right? So I took the train to the city with my computer and a book, just in case. I tried to write on the train, but the announcer at every stop was incredibly distracting… Somehow, the monotone voice just takes over my mind as if it’s out to get me. It’s not natural, after all, why shouldn’t be vary of it?

Anyway, I had some brunch at a cozy place on a busy street and then I tried writing again. Surprisingly, I did really well. 

I didn’t mind the chatter, it’s easier for me to get lost in the story if I have something to tune out. But maybe there was something more about writing in public? Perhaps the pretentious side of me awoke and I felt important, perhaps the was the energy of the city… regardless, what I was doing felt important. 

All the work I’ve done at home is stories that nobody reads and at some point, it started to feel pointless. The apartment had become my bastion of failure, or maybe it’s just distracting? A creative Vacuum in anycase.

Perhaps change of scenery is what I needed to get the spirit into writing again.

PS: the new WordPress editor… I don’t like different!

When you learn how to write

When learning how to write, I didn’t do it the right way. I started with flowery words and I just wrote from the heart without knowing what made a story.
Though, honestly, that’s probably the only way to start because the basics are boring. It would be like school all over again and you’d drop the pen as fast as you picked it up because there’s no teacher yelling at your back.
In any case, because I lacked the basics I abandoned my stories because something stopped me from finishing, my heart wasn’t enough. I wrote several unfinished novels until I decided ‘enough was enough’ and I would finish a project no matter the outcome.
I did pretty good like this, I wrote a couple of bad short stories and I didn’t fret too much that they were bad because at least they were fun to write. And I would never return to them and ‘fix’ them because they are part of my journey and I wouldn’t want to hide it.
But, as I turn towards the basics of storytelling, I feel like my writing has become dull. I wrote simply, very simply, almost barebones, just so that I could finish something. Finishing rather than abandoning, until I understood the medium and my way of doing things.
I’ll continue to crank out bad stories until I have the confidence to write like I did before, without guides or rules, completely trusting myself and my abilities.
Ignorance is bliss, but unfortunately, I’m not ignorant anymore!