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a question about backstory : Tips and Advice • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

a question about backstory

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Harold Saxon
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a question about backstory

Postby Harold Saxon » Fri Oct 06, 2017 4:45 pm

Do Dystopian novels have the history of how they got to where they are? As in The Hunger Games, Divergent. If something happened centuries ago before the inciting event, should the writer explain how the society got to the way they are? Without info-dumping, boring back-history. Sort of Charles Dickens... the times were dark.... or does the writer bore everyone with how the dark times happen which would not allow the inciting event to be in the beginning.

Beginning writer, trying to figure out the tech aspects.
thanks for responses

sammy2
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Re: a question about backstory

Postby sammy2 » Fri Oct 06, 2017 5:41 pm

[quote="Harold Saxon"]Do Dystopian novels have the history of how they got to where they are? As in The Hunger Games, Divergent. If something happened centuries ago before the inciting event, should the writer explain how the society got to the way they are? Without info-dumping, boring back-history. Sort of Charles Dickens... the times were dark.... or does the writer bore everyone with how the dark times happen which would not allow the inciting event to be in the beginning.

Beginning writer, trying to figure out the tech aspects.
thanks for responses[/quote]


Good question. I would guess that it depends.
Some authors have a prologue to set the context. Some just have a sentence to describe the current situation. Others let it come out as part of the story as it progresses.

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wdarcy
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Re: a question about backstory

Postby wdarcy » Fri Oct 06, 2017 6:05 pm

I don't write dystopian novels. However, as a reader I would prefer that the backstory, what led up to the apocalypse, came out gradually as the story progressed.

On the other hand, some start at the beginning. Steven King's THE STAND and CELL start before the event and move towards it. I believe the same is true of SWAN SONG (a ripoff of THE STAND).

Hopefully some on this forum are more familiar with the genre than I am and can be more helpful.

Good luck!

--Warren
"Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'" (Oxford 1993). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 1995.

"Elements of Sonata Theory" co-authored with James Hepokoski(Oxford 2006). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 2008.

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ostarella
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Re: a question about backstory

Postby ostarella » Fri Oct 06, 2017 10:58 pm

I haven't read a lot of them, but those I have read tend to be almost two books - like the Stand, although not necessarily of the same epic length. There's the cause of the apocalypse and immediate aftermath, and then the second major problem that happens after the dust settles. The caveat - those generally dealt with something more complicated than nuclear war or meteors hitting the earth, and thus needed a little more "explaining", both in how it came about and how it affected people.

I guess that would be my "clue" for placement of "backstory" - is it something that most people would have at least a fairly good understanding of (nuclear war) or is it something along the lines of the plague in The Stand?
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Harold Saxon
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Re: a question about backstory

Postby Harold Saxon » Fri Oct 06, 2017 11:43 pm

Thanks all, for your responses. It was vague because it happened several centuries ago. One of the early beginnings was something like, The Dark Ages were shrouded in a mystery propagated by the government to hide their secrets.

Then another version did a brief timeline of events that happened over several centuries and came up to eight years behind the present of Chapter one. The history in one version was mentioned in conversation, but that would have been later on in the story, not up front as some have suggested. Thanks for the input.

I'm not sure if the dystopian Hunger Games, Divergent ever gave the reason for how society came about.

People's responses (in other online) were to explain what happened centuries ago and they wanted the explanation in the beginning.

It reminds me of Abbott and Costello's Who's on First or parody on Hamlet... To prologue or not to prologue, that is the question. :)

I have read dystopian novels that started from their present and didn't bother much in the explanation department.

My drafts are written in 3rd present tense. It comes out that way and I have to change it to past tense in the revision. :)

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Dreaming Imrryr
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Re: a question about backstory

Postby Dreaming Imrryr » Wed Nov 01, 2017 3:03 pm

I like some backstory. If some things are never explained by the time I finish the book, I don't think like that.

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Re: a question about backstory

Postby Aeoneye » Wed Dec 27, 2017 11:15 am

Here's an analogy I like to keep in mind when world building. Think of an oil painting of a cabin in the woods. An artist has to have several variables in mind. Things like lighting, perspective, season, location. Then he can add more character to the scene by thinking of what kind of person lives at this cabin. Or if it's abandoned, who lived there? That's when unique items such as flower pots, machinery, wind chimes appear on the canvas. Then the artist can go even further by imagining what is off the canvas. Perhaps a waterfall nearby. Or a large hill that causes a drop in temperature. All of these things can give depth to his painting.

When you know what's outside the canvas, it'll make your painting more meaningful. You can base entire story arcs on what you don't even talk about in the book. The reader will appreciate your story even more when they realize there's something more to this painting.

So yes, always write why an event occurred, even if you don't include it in your story. It'll help the story write itself.

RobTheThird
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Re: a question about backstory

Postby RobTheThird » Wed Dec 27, 2017 4:22 pm

Hmm... think about the world as it is when your tale begins. How has the intervening time passed? Are the events immortalized and dogmatized in religion? Do they still tell tales around the (proverbial or literal) campfire? Does your character often speak of it?

I mean, if I tell you that my main character comes upon a crater a mile across, and that he knows better than to enter the death zone within, you would tend to think nuclear, wouldn't you? You don't have to tell what happened if that imagery puts the reader into the frame of mind that you wish.

I'm reminded of the movie "Reign of Fire." I think that should have been a good movie, but it spent a full 45 minutes explaining the apocalypse leading up to the time period of the movie. Did it need all that explanation, or could it all have been made clear enough for story purposes by a single incident that may not show the audience how the world got "here," but that clearly shows the conditions right then and there?

Just set the stage that's necessary for your story to progress. Let the story get moving.

T.A.Rodgers
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Re: a question about backstory

Postby T.A.Rodgers » Thu Dec 28, 2017 12:59 pm

I say this to anyone that asks a question about how do other writers do something. Read, read, read. If you are going to write a Dystopian novel you better have read dozens if not more. You should read recent novels as well as older novels. That goes for any genre. YOU WILL NEVER BECOME A GREAT WRITER OR EVEN A GOOD WRITER UNLESS YOU READ. If that's not a true statement, please provide proof and name a bestselling author who doesn't read.

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Re: a question about backstory

Postby updog » Thu Dec 28, 2017 4:16 pm

T.A.Rodgers wrote:
> I say this to anyone that asks a question about how do other writers do
> something. Read, read, read. If you are going to write a Dystopian novel
> you better have read dozens if not more. You should read recent novels as
> well as older novels. That goes for any genre. YOU WILL NEVER BECOME A
> GREAT WRITER OR EVEN A GOOD WRITER UNLESS YOU READ. If that's not a true
> statement, please provide proof and name a bestselling author who doesn't
> read.

This is exactly what I was thinking.
"Is it weird in here, or is it just me?" ~ Steven Wright




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