Backstory, part deux – the history that binds

Backstory can bring a sense of understanding to a novel

Backstory can bring a sense of understanding to a novel

Backstory is extremely important to my novel.

It defines my characters. It makes them who they are. The choices they make are directly influenced by their backstory.

How that comes out in the story depends on what kind of story your write.

In writing circles you often hear the term ‘character driven story’ and ‘plot driven story’. Although these titles suggest a very black and white attitude to fiction, what they mean is simply this:

A Plot Driven Story has an event (or series of events) happening and this defines the characters in the story. If you change a character in the story then the story doesn’t really change. The event still happens, regardless of who is around to deal with it. Think Lord of the Rings or Armageddon or any big budget thriller where it is all about the action and not necessarily about the characters

A Character Driven Story is a story in which characters make choices and the characters work through the consequences of that. This likely creates events just like in the plot driven novel, but if the characters change, then the story wouldn’t exist or would be completely different. Think the Dark Knight, or Karen Traviss’ Wess’Har series or Slumdog Millionaire. Imagine them without their main characters!

Now novels don’t necessarily have to be one or the other. These labels exist to make writers feel better, (‘I’m a character novelist so I’m better than you’) or allows reviewers to pidgeon hole novels and authors, and generally help people make sense out of all the types of fiction out there. So they are labels, and not scientific fact.

My novel has a plot that drives the story, but I have characters who say ‘Thanks, but I’ll take over from here and do what I think is the right thing,’ and make it a character driven story. This is a GOOD thing. People read for character. External events help. Amazing scenery helps. Explosions and Guns and Violence and good old fashioned Sex help. But it’s the people engaging in all these activities that are what make a story a story. Without people you have nothing.

But you need to keep the characters focused too. Something external to keep them marching toward the destination they need to go to. If they want to take the interstate instead of the back road fine, but the author is the guy controlling the roads and all roads lead to Rome, I mean the climax of the novel.

So with my novel I intend to deliver both, a little of column A and a little of column B. How do you do this? It’s pretty simple. You need to have a strong backstory that is linked to the plot, but that also evolves with the plot. The protagonist must affect the plot but also be affected by it. This takes both the character and the story down a dark road that neither really want to go down.

And there you have the recipe for a killer story.

The next question is: ‘So how do you handle this backstory business?’. Well everyone has their own advice. I’ve read a lot of textbooks and I’ve studied under a lot of teachers. I’ll go into this further in next week’s update.

Now, onto the metrics:

Page Count For The Week: 29.

Another week, another 29 pages completed. To be honest I could have done more, but I chose to have an early night on Saturday. Of course my ‘early’ night actually meant two hours of cleaning vomit and changing the linen on the kids bed twice, but that’s another story. Yes, actually there was probably enough action there for a good, but gross, short story.

Total Editing Page Count: 130.

Past the half way point. It’s pretty clear at this stage I won’t have the edit completed this month. Too bad. I’ll just have to do the best I can. Thinking maybe mid August now, so for all the Alpha readers out there, psyche yourselves up for it. 🙂

Updated Total Page Count: 252

No major additions to the page count this week. A chapter ended half way down a page and I started the next chapter on a new page. Wow, riveting news on the novel front right there!

Updated Word Count: 122,310

Nothing else to really say about that, so lets just slide right on by and go to the weekly progress chart for “EDITING – PHASE 2:”


130/ 252 (51.6%)


Repaired Faux-Pas of the Week:

Another scene involving cars. Not a car chase, but the good guys were in the car with the bad guys. Things were going to go down. But now they are going down in another type of vehicle. Some minor rewriting required.

Edititation of the Week

Last week I played a little game and showed three examples of the same paragraph. I asked you, the readers, to tell me the order of evolution of the three. Which was the best? The Worst?

Well there were two entries and it’s probably no surprise they were both correct. It’s good to see that the ‘better’ writing shone through clearly.

Now onto this week.

This is a small chunk of the text with only a small change between ‘before’ and ‘after’ but I chose this example to illustrate a technique to draw out the information and cause a minute sense of suspense.


He staggered backward, back into the range of the rifle. The guard couldn’t see but must have sensed the distance, bringing the weapon up-

-AO crashed a flame dessicator across his head and the guard tumbled to the ground head first.

Robert’s chest was rising and falling as he sucked in great big balls of air.

Five seconds.

He’d just wiped out a corporate station in five seconds.

“Thanks for the help,” he rasped.

AO dropped the dessicator and gave him a withering look. “You didn’t have to kill them all.”


Robert stepped away, back into the range of the rifle. The guard couldn’t see but he must have sensed the distance, bringing the weapon up-

-Gunn swung a flame dessicator down onto his head and the guard tumbled head first into the ground.

Robert’s gaze flicked from Gunn to the guard and back again, his chest rising and falling as he sucked in great big balls of air.

Five seconds.

Five seconds and six people down.

Five seconds and he’d wiped out an entire Corporate station.

A person could have blinked and missed it.

“Thanks for the help,” he rasped.

Gunn dropped the dessicator, which clanged against the floor, and gave him a withering look. “You didn’t have to kill them all.”


Now I’m not totally happy with the ‘after’ here, but I left it as-is, knowing I’d give it a closer look later. So what do you think? If you were editing this little sequence how would you rewrite it?

Post your ideas in the comments. I’d love to see what you come up with.

Writer’s Forum

Pretty quiet. Further posts about units of measurements and some interesting (some could say ironic) news coming from Michael Brookes. I’ve been asking more random questions to Michael, including:

“Are there any logos for the Corporations yet?”
“How many dark system jumps on average between systems?”

Commander's Log Cover art

    Commander’s Log Podcast

    Episode 8 will be coming out in the middle of this month, with recording starting later this week.

    I’ve just purchased Pamela skype recorder to (obviously) record skype conversations. I have been using the free version of the ‘Basic’ system, which had time and other restrictions. That was ok to start with, but I have quite a few guests lining up now and the professional version has a few cool features which I wanted (such as each speaker being on a separate channel so it is easier to edit). So, I forked over the cast and now I’m ready to bring the podcast up to the next level. Bring it on!


    And that’s a wrap for another week. I’ll be continuing on the backstory theme next week. I think I might end up with enough material here to make an article, so we’ll see how we go. Hope you enjoyed the update.

    One last question before you go: I made a small movie for the recent LaveCon meet up where about forty Elite fans gathered to talk Elite. I received extremely positive feedback about the video so thought I’d open it up to everyone. Would anyone else be interested in seeing the video? (The camera zooms in on a page of the novel if that alters your thinking at all).

    Thanks team. Catch you all next week.



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