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Chicken or the Egg?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Heliotrope, Nov 14, 2015.

  1. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    On my first novel (that never got completed because I can fully admit it was sh*t), I spend months on the backstory. I loved the backstory. I had every detail and names and places all figured out. I then spent another few months scrambling to make an actual story out of the backstory I had created. I felt married to the backstory. I felt like my plot had to conform to the elements of the backstory.

    Turns out (for me anyway) when you have a more interesting backstory then actual story then there is a problem. If the backstory is more interesting and has more conflict, then why not write the backstory?

    I have since scrapped that manuscript, written shorts for a few years, and am now back in the saddle with planning a new novel. This time I'm planning the plot first and adjusting the backstory as needed. This is working out much better for me. I can change the backstory however I want in order to make the current plot more interesting…

    Oh, maybe it would be cool if her guardian was actually the lawyer that condemned the bad guy to death and saw him executed, that would be a cool connection...

    Oh, maybe I should have it so that before…. her mother…. ohhhhh, yes… so that would mean…


    Do you do backstory first? Or do you work on it as needed to suit the needs of your plot?
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    It depends. Some characters just start out more experienced and have personal backstories. Other characters are relative novices whose backstories would be boring.

    But that word, "story," is interesting in the word "backstory." Probably anyone who spends a lot of time developing a backstory will naturally be creating a story; the chance always exists for that story to become very interesting,

    Another "story": I have histories for many characters before writing something new, but those histories generally are limited to broad strokes plus a few key events that will come to bear on the present story. I leave most of the backstory vague or with gaps.

    Edit: I wonder if I may have missed the gist of your question or took it a new route. I focused on personal backstories for characters rather than a backstory/history for the world. Well. I do pretty much the same thing for world building, although when the plot depends on the backstory for the world, I spend quite a lot of time outlining that backstory with broad strokes and key events, leaving other minor details to be "filled in later."
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2015
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  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Backstory for the most part takes a backseat to the plot. Before I start writing, I do try to sketch out things about the characters and the world, but what's in that sketch can change at a drop of a hat if the story demands.

    The way I think about it is, I'm trying to write the best story I can, and if changing something, anything, helps me achieve that, then why should I be opposed to that?

    The only problem I see is in sequels, where you've locked certain things in. In that case, you're going to have to be creative, which I don't think is a bad thing.

    Another thing I find is that what seems like a good idea in the building stage, sometimes isn't when you get to the writing itself.
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  4. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Scribe

    I do like backstory, and like many others, I've often suffered the problem of sticking too much in.

    The way I've found to avoid this is to imagine that I am going to write a prequel, where the backstory can all be covered in glorious detail. I may or may never write that prequel, but that's not the point - it means I can now get away with referencing only those most important points. And leave the rest for if and when I actually write that prequel.

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  5. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    I like to create only the few key points regarding the back story that are immediately to the current story. The more backstory I write that isn't currently relevant to the story the more likely I will forget some aspect and write something that contradicts it later. By leaving some things blank it allows me to create something more meaningful when it matters.
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  6. Velka

    Velka Sage

    I'm in line with many of the other writers on this thread. I create a backstory for my characters, but only to the depth I need for the story I am telling through them. Leaving gaps and unknowns gives me the creative freedom to allow them to naturally evolve through the storytelling.

    As for the world, I only invest as much backstory as is necessary in regards to having things organized in my own head. If something that happened in the past directly affects events in the story, then I do put some thought and effort into having a cohesive history for that, but otherwise it's all broad strokes.
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  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I have a general sense of the backstory of my world when I get started on the writing - the big picture, if you will. But the details of backstory are developed as I write the story, as needed to support the story or as new things occur to me that I like and that fit within what I already have.
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  8. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Yeah. This all came to me when people kept asking "So what is your book about?"

    My response would start with "Well, two thousand years earlier….." and I would go into the backstory for ten minutes before I got to the actual story.

    Eventually I realized that if someone were to ask me "What is The Lord of the Rings about?" I would say "Well, this Hobbit is approached by a wizard to help him send an evil ring of power back to it's creator and save Middle Earth."

    I wouldn't say "Well, two thousand years earlier an evil sorcerer…. battle between elves……." because that would have been The Silmarillion… does that make sense?

    What is "Wizard's first Rule" about? "Well, a normal small town woods guide gets named the Seeker and goes on an adventure to save the world from a bad guy named Darken Rahl…" Not, "Well, ten thousand years earlier some wizards got together and made this sword…."

    After this finally clicked for me, that my backstory was more interesting then my actual story, I realized there was a problem lol!

    Now I do it the other way around. Now I start with a compelling character RIGHT NOW and then adapt the backstory to the needs of the plot to make it as interesting as possible. I was just wondering what other people did… if you planned your backstory to every last detail or if you made it up and changed it as you went along.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  9. spectre

    spectre Sage

    Whenever I've had time, to go over details and write, my preference is to do both at the same time and sporadically largest backstory/lore may come out of it as well. Offnote; I also tend to edit as I go. Either I've got some terrible word processors or I think I've written down words and syntax I haven't.

    Sent from my LGMS345 using Tapatalk
  10. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

    No, I usually don't. The first thing I imagine are certain concepts, specific images I have in my head, and the tone of the whole thing. Then I plot out the bare bones of the plot, and then rethink everything until I have something that's worth writing. Backstory is something I usually have to force myself to do.
  11. NerdyCavegirl

    NerdyCavegirl Sage

    My story world is simply one of my many daydream worlds, I write for no other reason but to get it out of my head, so I just go with whatever comes to me as long as it's interesting and I can connect the dots. My mind does follow certain patterns though. I like a rich complete world that follows realistic rules (tectonic plates, prevailing winds, etc) because the land tells the story of what cultures and characters can rise up from it. The cultures and characters then mold each other further, as in real life, and they tell me however much they think I should know about them. I don't force it or plan out every detail, that just makes me less interested. Character timelines go by 2 or 4 year intervals, cultural/world timelines go by 500 or 1000 years, and any outlining consists only of that, profiles, and maps just to keep details straight. I let the story write itself and the conflicts and character development just feed on each other and mold each other the way they're supposed to be.

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