Books · How To · Writing

Figuring Out Backstory- Part Two

The sections in italics are the backstory from the first version that I weaved into the rewrite of this chapter. Now, the backstory is used to show Noelle’s state of mind and how her anger at her own choices leads her to take a risk and escape. (I was going to cut out the parts that weren’t in italics but I thought it was better to maintain the flow for the example)

 Example Two from the romantic suspense work in progress:

 Noelle Mitchell shivered as the rain pounded against her. The thunderstorm brought along a cold wind and her soaked t-shirt and jeans did nothing to ward off the attack. The rope marks on her ankles burned with each step, the ones on her wrists stung with each flex when she attempted to restart the circulation. She shuffled farther into the violent storm, closing her mind to the churning thoughts of what the men planned to do to her.

 Three weeks ago, Noelle allowed terror to control her decision. Instead of screaming or fighting off the hooded man who grabbed her arm, she offered her purse, giving a rundown of the items inside, a digital music player, two credit cards…neither signed…keys to her car and $112.64. The instructions from the women’s self-defense classes her older sister made her take didn’t make sense when faced with the reality of a robbery.

 But the mask should’ve clued her in that the man wanted to take her not some measly possessions. 

 “Keep her in the car!” A voice shouted from inside the cabin that was her prison. “No money for a drowned daughter.”

 The gravel walkway ended and her bare feet sank into the mud. The thick, cold soil felt like a soothing balm. She stood still, needing the comfort to last a moment longer. Tremors erupted along her body and the oak trees swayed as her vision dimmed. She struggled through the dizziness and remained upright. She wanted to give up. Every step caused pain to course through her fatigued body. Fear and humiliation almost seemed the better alternative to the pain and cold. She looked back at the cabin.


 The kidnapper who wore the dark navy mask pushed her. “Move.”

 Noelle pitched forward. She dug her toes into the water-soaked earth to maintain her balance. Thunder boomed in the distance and a flash of light illuminated the dark sky.

The man yanked her. The pressure on her arm caused an ache deep in her muscle. Another bruise.

“The little lady is afraid of thunder.” He chuckled and pulled her toward a sports utility vehicle. “Not much of a surprise.”

No, it wouldn’t be. The night he waved a gun at her and demanded she get into the gray van with tinted windows, she complied without a fight. Without one scream leaving her throat. She climbed into the van and sat still as two other men wearing hoods tied her hands behind her back and secured a rope around her ankles. They shoved a gag into her mouth and wrapped the blindfold tight around her head. She remembered the taste of her silent sobs and how she hoped not to choke on her fear.

As long as you behave, you won’t be hurt,” the men had promised. “Once Daddy gives us our money, you’ll go home.” And so far the men kept their word. Every day that passed, fear grew that they would change their minds. Why were they moving her to the car because of a massive thunderstorm? The leak in the roof wasn’t that bad. She shuddered and her feet almost slipped out from under her. The man’s hand on her arm tightened.

In the second example, the purpose for the backstory (show Noelle’s state of mind) and the action (escaping) occurred in the present. The present activity is Noelle’s reaction and thoughts as the kidnappers move her from the cabin to the truck. By reworking the backstory, it now complements and is a part of the current scene rather than a scene that took place before the reader became involved.

 I’ve come to learn that backstory (even when not written into the book) is an important part of the developing novel. Characters come into the story with insecurities, secrets, and a past that directly affect the plot and each writer handles getting this information to the reader in a different manner. I’d love to hear how others handle the backstory element in their works and how readers prefer the past of the heroines and heros to be showed to them.


4 thoughts on “Figuring Out Backstory- Part Two

  1. My method of handling this is to break up any paragraph that has remembrances and current events into two paragraphs. I think this is important because in your last paragraph, it still might require the reader to do a double take. Is she remembering that up to that point in the remembered kidnapping, they had kept their word? Should the reader dread the revelation that he/she would find out the main character was hurt? Separating the paragraph might solve this.

    “As long as you behave, you won’t be hurt,” the men had promised. “Once Daddy gives us our money, you’ll go home.” So far the men kept their word.

    With every day that passed since her taking, Noelle grew more fearful that the kidnappers would change their minds. Why were they moving her to a different car because of a thunderstorm? The leak in the roof wasn’t that bad. Noelle shuddered and her feet almost slipped out from under her. The man’s hand on her arm tightened.

    Just as a thought, I’m having trouble seen the connection between “The leak in the roof wasn’t that bad” and “Noelle shuddered and her feet almost slipped out from under her”. If the leak wasn’t that bad, then why was she shuddering and her feet slipping out from underneath her? This would lead me to think that the opposite was the case: that the leak was causing her to have chills and her feet were slipping. Is something else going on here?

    Anyway, cheers!

    1. Thanks, Rex, I really appreciate your suggestions. Her thought about the roof leak does come into play later in the novel. I do see how ending that paragraph with her shuddering and slipping is confusing. In looking at the paragraph, I think I need to move the last two sentences to come after ‘change their minds’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s