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Thread: Creating the backstory

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Question Creating the backstory

    I was just wondering, which one of these elements would you put up first and make it clear to yourself before writing the story: plot, characters or setting? Also, do you make the backstory before you start writing, or make it as the story progresses? Just looking for different opinions.

  2. #2
    I agree with Roxxsmom.
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    I think of a character and put him/her in a situation. That then helps me think up what I hope is the best setting. It also helps lead to a back story, if there is one. I hardly think about plot beyond the initial situation. My characters propel me through the story. And, I confess, I usually have an ending before I know exactly how I'm going to get to it.

    Of course, it doesn't always work that way for me. I never know where an inspiration will come from, but as a rule, that's the way I do it.

    What if a man were out stealing chickens and witnesses a murder? Okay, now what location and time period would that be most likely to happen? A rural area during the 1930's or 40's perhaps? Okay then, there's my setting. Now what? Where's MC come from and why is he stealing chickens? There's my back story. And so it goes ...

  3. #3
    Mentoring Myself and Others Debbie V's Avatar
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    Often some of both. If I start with just a character I can ramble forever and have nothing really happen. That's not a story. A plot with no compelling character isn't much fun either. It can take me drafts upon drafts to get a real story and then I still have to make it work.
    I also often have the end in mind without knowing how to get there. So both together are great if I can get them.

  4. #4
    Soldier, Storyteller Linda Adams's Avatar
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    I was just wondering, which one of these elements would you put up first and make it clear to yourself before writing the story: plot, characters or setting?
    None of them, actually. I don't outline, so I would write to find out what the story was and who the characters were. With setting, I'd read a couple of books, but not take any notes. Just some knowledge to potentially filter into the story.

    Also, do you make the backstory before you start writing, or make it as the story progresses?
    I just make it up as I go along.
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    Caped Codder jaksen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Linda Adams View Post
    None of them, actually. I don't outline, so I would write to find out what the story was and who the characters were. With setting, I'd read a couple of books, but not take any notes. Just some knowledge to potentially filter into the story.



    I just make it up as I go along.
    Which is what I do, too. My first story - I saw a boy sliding down an embankment of a salt marsh to talk to a cop. In the salt marsh was a dead body. As I wrote, I realized the boy had found and reported the body ... and tada, story followed.

    But some writers need a more concrete outline or path to follow, along with back story, character profiles, notes, etc. Others writers are sort of in between, creating a semi-outline which allows for the story to wander a bit.

    You need to figure out which method works best for you. No one method is right or wrong - in other words, with writing there is no onesizefitsall.
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  6. #6
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    tin.125,

    My stories are rarely plot driven, so my first musings are about the character and putting them in a situation where they have to work pretty hard to reach some kind of a goal. Then, I sit down and write.
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  7. #7
    living in the past ishtar'sgate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tin.125 View Post
    I was just wondering, which one of these elements would you put up first and make it clear to yourself before writing the story: plot, characters or setting? Also, do you make the backstory before you start writing, or make it as the story progresses? Just looking for different opinions.
    Because I write historical fiction, setting is the first thing I want to have very clear in my mind before I begin. I also like to give my characters a history before I start to write - what has made them the person they are when the story begins. For example, someone born into privilege and luxury and an easy life is not going to respond the same way in a crisis as someone who's had a hard life and faced many past difficulties and trials. I don't do a complete workup because the story itself will often introduce other ideas for backstory but I like to start with something. Plot is usually rough. I know where I'm going and where I want to end up as well as some key scenes but prefer the rest works itself out through the characters. It's more to guide them and keep them on track instead of meandering all over the place.

  8. #8
    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tin.125 View Post
    I was just wondering, which one of these elements would you put up first and make it clear to yourself before writing the story: plot, characters or setting? Also, do you make the backstory before you start writing, or make it as the story progresses? Just looking for different opinions.
    I forget who said it, but a plot is the trail of footprints left by characters as they go through the story. So plot isn't something I give any thought to as I'm writing.

    Backstory--well, it depends on what you mean. Do I know things about the characters as I start writing? Yes, a few things that tells me who they are and why they belong in this story. But as far as tons of details, or thinking about how that backstory will write into the book--I don't do that. Backstory will become important in how they react, why they make the choices they do, their existing relationships. Backstory will be explained when and only when there is a good story reason to do so, otherwise, I don't think much about it at all. No more than I consciously think about my own backstory as I go through my everyday life.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Susan Littlefield View Post
    tin.125,

    My stories are rarely plot driven, so my first musings are about the character and putting them in a situation where they have to work pretty hard to reach some kind of a goal. Then, I sit down and write.
    This is my approach too, though I do some outlining to maintain my own momentum (more than that of the story)
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    Azarath Metrion Zinthos AshleyEpidemic's Avatar
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    I often start with plot in terms of how characters react to a situation. For example, I tend to get an idea of a scene and how the people involved behave, but the characters are unformed. As I write I learn more about the character as they go through my outline of the main plot. The backstory I create is usually there before I start writing.

    I have been writing short stories to form my world. It also helps prevent me from dumping info because I already had an outlet for the information not directly related to the story at hand.
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  11. #11
    I against I Jon M's Avatar
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    Everything begins with character, so that is where I start.
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  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW LJD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tin.125 View Post
    I was just wondering, which one of these elements would you put up first and make it clear to yourself before writing the story: plot, characters or setting? Also, do you make the backstory before you start writing, or make it as the story progresses? Just looking for different opinions.
    I have a pretty good sense of all of these, though there is still a lot I figure out as I'm writing.

    Backstory, too, for the main characters. Particularly things that have happened to the character that will affect how they react to the situations I put them in.

  13. #13
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    My characters' backstories have definitely evolved as I've written and rewritten my novel. But I had them mapped out before I started. Of course, I had these characters in my head for a long time before I finally got the guts to try to formally tell their story.

    The hardest part for me has been determining how much of that backstory is actually important for the reader to know and determining what the best way of sharing it.
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  14. #14
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Mistiko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon M View Post
    Everything begins with character, so that is where I start.
    I begin with my characters, too.

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    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tin.125 View Post
    I was just wondering, which one of these elements would you put up first and make it clear to yourself before writing the story: plot, characters or setting? Also, do you make the backstory before you start writing, or make it as the story progresses? Just looking for different opinions.
    I don't do much if any advance thinking on a story; I generally start with a character in a setting. Sometimes the setting will come first, and that gives birth to the character(s), because people are products of the times and places in which they live.

    Backstory tends to bubble up throughout the writing of the real story. I don't know it beforehand, because I don't yet know the character(s).

  16. #16
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    I know my characters and setting before I sit down in front of the computer. Backstory comes out, if necessary, as events move along. At present, plot is eluding me - because I didn't work it out before I started writing.

    This isn't an opinion. It's just what I am doing right now. As for how other writers work, that's up to them.

  17. #17
    I aim to misbehave Myrealana's Avatar
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    I usually start with an idea for a main character and build from there, but I don't have any particular order. I keep a composition book for each project and jot notes in there until I've fleshed out enough to start a plot outline.

    Things come to me in all sorts of orders. I can wander from main character backstory to villian motivation to generlized world building to the town layout. I once spent a whole day writing down the rules of vampires in my world only to decide that vampires really don't belong in the story at all.
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  18. #18
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Moralis's Avatar
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    I write mostly fantasy and my setting is more or less the typical semi-medieval one. When I start writing I have no countries, no landmarks, no towns, those will develop as the story goes.

    I usually have a certain 'scene' in mind before I start writing. It's mostly just an image, really. Like my current novel is built around a chronicler, hiding in a deserted inn with an outlawed army commander and his most trusted soldiers.
    I start fleshing out these characters, getting to know them better. All the while thinking the chronicler will be my main interest. It turned out that the commander is the one with the best story to tell. He is the person that will most likely be my MC.

    Now I need a situation I can place them in. What are their backstories? Well, being outlawed gives us many possible plotlines to come up with, so that was step two.

    When I started actually plotting the story ( and I use that term very loosely since I mainly write on the go) I noticed something was missing. Some catalyst. And out of nowhere, this girl pops into my head and into my story. A girl that is going to push the men out of their status quo and into the plot.

    That's when I get excited about a story. And that's when I start to write. As I write the scenery will write itself, partly influenced by, or tweaked for scenes that need to speed up or slow down the action.
    By this point I have a vague idea of the big baddie. I have a vague notion of his intentions. And I have not a clue about how he are going to resolve the situation. thats up to my characters to decide. At some point, my story takes off, my characters take over, and all I need to do is try to keep up with them and write their story.

  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW flapperphilosopher's Avatar
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    I'm not entirely sure. I guess "a character in a situation", though I often keep the character and change the situation, sometimes a few times. I play with setting-- it's pretty flexible for a while. Backstory comes with the characters-- I want to know how they got where they are, why they care about the things they do, their relationships with other people, all of which comes from their past. Before I write I have a pretty good sense of all that, though I realize more as it goes on. The plot comes out of all that stuff, at some point.
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  20. #20
    Travelling around the sun cbenoi1's Avatar
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    > I was just wondering, which one of these elements would you put up
    > first and make it clear to yourself before writing the story: plot,
    > characters or setting?

    1) Premise - A one-liner describing characters in a situation. ex: Harry Potter: A pre-teen boy discovers he has magical powers and attends a boarding school for wizards.

    2) Character(s) - Need, Weaknesses and Goal. ex: (N) Harry needs to grow up as a wizard and fast. Hermione needs to see life beyond academia. (W) Harry knows nothing about the wizard world and even less about himself. Ron comes from a poor family. (G) Harry wants to uncover his own past and find why he survived an evil super-wizard.

    3) Antagonist(s) - Those who will oppose the main character by hitting on his/her weakness. Voldemort has to defeat Harry in order to come back and dominate the wizards' world once again; he and his minions exploit Harry's deficit in wizardry knowledge.

    4) Plot - How the protagonists will find and defeat the Antagonist(s).

    5) The ending - how it's going to end, the big battle, what the main character is going to learn.


    The main point here: Characters come before Plot.

    -cb
    Last edited by cbenoi1; 01-02-2013 at 09:43 PM.

  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW Sunflowerrei's Avatar
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    I begin with a character. Then I figure out where they've come from and the situation they're in. I'm working on trying to limit the backstories, actually, because they tend to be elaborate and overshadow the plot.
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  22. #22
    Freelance Writer Orianna2000's Avatar
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    For me, every element affects the others, so I have to work on them equally, a little at a time.

    I start with an idea. Sometimes it's a dream I had, or a scene I envisioned. I'll take that idea and write out a very basic plot outline. Then I'll expound upon the concept. If I have ideas for specific scenes, I'll write them out. I'll generally do a one page detailed outline for the story. Once I have a basic idea of what the story is about, I'll start developing the characters. I start with the POV character and write a detailed bio, discovering who they really are. That, in turn, affects the plot.

    Somewhere along the line, I decide where the story takes place. With my second novel, location wasn't very important. I chose London almost randomly. It could have just as easily been New York or any other large city. For my third novel, however, location was more important because it took place on an alien world. I had to plan out the setting with as much detail as the characters and plot.

    It's sort of like drawing. You start with a basic rough sketch, then you go in and flesh it out. You add detail a little at a time, moving around the drawing. You don't focus on, say, the face, and draw the face in perfect detail, while the rest of the drawing is still roughly sketched. That would be foolish, because you might discover the head was in the wrong position and needs to be shifted a little, and all your detailed work was for nothing. Writing is similar--for me, at least. I constantly shift from characterization to plot, to setting, and back again, because each affects the others.

  23. #23
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    I don't plot, before or during the writing. I drop what I hope is an interesting character into what I hope is an interesting setting and situation, and just go from there. But I don't think about the character or setting in advance, either.

  24. #24
    practical experience, FTW Coco82's Avatar
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    I have some ideas, but I make up most while I go along.
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