Fear in Writing: Balance, Regrets, and Backstory

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Balance, Regrets, and Backstory

Regrets by Claude Marie Dubufe,
I was supposed to write about Modernism today...but I'll be honest: I wasn't feeling it. I woke up at 4:44 this morning and couldn't get back to sleep. I had had a dream. It wasn't a bad dream, but one of those that puts you in a mindset you can't break. It was a dream about getting a new job, which is not bad, but also had people from high school involved. So my thoughts started spiraling...How far have I come? How is my life? Wasn't it good and easy back then? I miss being so in shape and young...I miss those long soccer trip weekends with good girlfriends...You know the type: regrets. And that regreat monster is not easily shaken.

Oh, yeah, and when I woke up at 4:44 am, I realized I had completely missed a work teleconference on Wednesday! Talk about regrets.

Do you ever get bogged down in the past? In the should-haves and would-haves and could-haves? How about in your writing? Do your characters do this?

I have an MC who has some serious baggage. Get a load of this: he killed his girlfriend as a teenager (got away with it), lost his mother when he was 11 (oh, and his father killed her), and now he is a detective trying make things right, but keeping all the secrets secret. So, the past is a major part of his story and my MS.

And in order to mix the past with the present and future in writing, a writer has to find balance. Is this tough for you? Is backstory getting you bogged down? What's your "formula" for balance?

*Tomorrow is guest blogger Stephen Tremp!  Don't miss it.  And I'll get back to Modernism sometime soon.


  1. My first book was a result of exactly what your talking about here. I was listening to some old albums (yes, vinyl) when I came across an old favorite that I hadn't heard in years. Suddenly I was swept away by a memory of a college spring break trip where I ended up experiencing a love-at-first-sight moment with a coed from another college. For weeks and weeks I could think about nothing but that week in Florida with my buddies...and her. I wrote a blog post about it (over at Myspace). Then I wrote a novella about it, fictionalizing some of it. I ultimately turned it into a full length mystery which I ultimately shelved. And do you know why? Too much of the book was spent in the past and I couldn't find the right balance with the present to make it work.

    I have learned sooooooo much since I wrote that book, and I fully intend to return to it and fix my mistakes.

    I know exactly what you were feeling at 4:44!

  2. Whenever I have a dream that I'm back in high school, I imagine it's because I have some unresolved issues from there and I know I have. Even though it's been many years... Maybe you have some unresolved work issues?

    Anyway, it's nice to give our characters some unresolved issues to deal with too. We all have it, why shouldn't they? I have no problems with backstory. I keep it out as long as possible only letting in little hints. It's part of what makes my characters stay interesting.


  3. I haven't found the balance yet, I hope it eventually is found but with hours never being guaranteed, life getting so busy that you can't breathe finding time to write and listen to my characters can be very difficult.

    It sounds like you have one heavy load on that MC of yours and I'd love to hear what becomes of it.

    I find there are weeks where I wake up at odd hours looking at where I've come, where my MC's are at now... and my dreams are a little crazy, as you've seen from this week!

  4. It's easy to get bogged down in the past, but not easy to get it out of your thoughts. I hate those days when I wake up and then remember something that I was suppose to do the day before. BTW, your MC sounds intriguing.

    Thoughts in Progress

  5. Ahh, the ole trio-quattro epiphany. That nagging little demon sitting on your shoulder all day, distorting the truth and swaying your thoughts. I've heard that one can learn to control their dreams and use said dreams to their creative benefit. I wish I could do that, but I can't.

    I think it's great to have all that backstory but a heavy past does make it harder to write about the present with innocent eyes. I try, with varying levels of success, to incorporate backstory into dialogue with a supporting character, a discovery of a supporting character when I'm writing a scene from their point of view, and sometimes, by having my character remember something from the past that ties to the present during times of great tension or stress.

    I sometimes keep a list of past history on a character and check off items I think might be important for character development or to help move a plot forward.

    I hope all that helps. It's my two cents worth - for what it's worth.

  6. Michele - We all of us have past histories we have to come to terms with, I think. We may not all have killed someone, but all of us have histories, and baggage and backstory are a part of our lives.

    I think it's most effective when writers integrate that backstory as a part of a novel, where a piece of the backstory is relevant. For instance, in Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles, we learn that Hercule Poirot was a WWI refugee from Belgium. But we don't learn that as a separate piece of information. It's integrated because he's investigating the death of Emily Inglethorp, who sponsered him and some other refugees so they could come to the U.K. I think backstory that's integrated that way is fascinating.

  7. I'm a guy - the past is a blur to me. However, my main character does come with heavy baggage that he must overcome.

  8. My MC's past is very important in his story. We all have regrets but I find that dwelling on them only puts a damper on the future.

    The past is the past, there is no going back. But the future, well anything is possible!

  9. In the meantime I go back and read your post on the Beat Generation >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  10. I do get bogged down in the past sometimes. And I don't have a formula for a MC if that happens, but I am working on it! If something amazing hits me, I will let you know:)
    Have a great weekend,

  11. Hi, I hopped over her from Clarissa's blog.

    When I get caught up in back story, I read the text carefully. If my mind starts to wander, it's a good indicator that I need to stop with the past and move on. Generally though, I try not to go on for longer than 3-4 sentenced, unless I have a significant scene to add.

  12. Balance? Did you say balance? I can't even carry a plate and glass in each hand, much less balance my writing life... but as far as the past, regrets or not, they are what forms us (and our characters)... so I tend to not regret, and really, really, try to simply take the experience from the whatever...

  13. I have some regrets, but worry more about regretting the things I didn't do.
    And several of my characters have major regrets - and continue to create more during the course of the story!