This occurred to me, more or less irrelevantly, while I was reading a story in Asimov's recently:

Fiction is often set at the time in the characters' lives when something new happens. Someone or other once said that most stories essentially begin with "And then, one day, . . ." (I think we had an argument about this at one of the SH workshops, so I should note that I do not in any way mean to imply that all stories are like this, or that stories should be or have to be like this. But I think it's pretty common, especially in genre stories.)

And sometimes I get the feeling that this is the first time anything particularly important or unusual or exciting has ever happened in those characters' lives.

But I think one of the things I love about some stories is when I get the sense that this isn't the first important or unusual or exciting thing that's ever happened to these people. Especially when I get the sense that things have happened to them in the past that are so important or unusual or exciting that the author could've written another story (or book) about those past things.

5 Responses to “Backstory”

  1. David Moles

    I think this is a better way of capturing what I mean when I say I’m tired of Everyman protagonists.

  2. Hannah

    Someone I know (Chelsea, maybe?) has said that the story should be about the second most interesting thing in a character’s life, with the most interesting thing as, yeah, the backstory.

    I think I’m playing with, right now, short stories that are _about_ one story, but that have other people’s stories happening around the edges. I don’t think it’s working quite right. I’m not sure it _can_ work, quite right. But man, if I can figure it out? That will make my whole year.

  3. M. C. A. Hogarth

    This is a mixed blessing as an author. *looks wryly at the trilogy spawned from a single short story*

  4. Vardibidian

    If it was original with him, it was John Barth, author of Giles Goat-Boy and The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, and he said it in, if I remember correctly, one of the stories in On with the Story. In fact, I think he said it in character, that is, the character that says it is the John Barth character that appears now and then in his works. However, in the discussion (and whoever says it goes on about it for quite a while, dithering in his writing, and then one day…) it is pointed out that an awful lot can happen before the and-then-one-day moment. I don’t think that the basic idea is incompatable with the idea that the story might be only the second most interesting thing that happened to the character. And, of course, it’s the author’s choice where to put that one-day, where to start the story, as it were.

    There was a fellow named Odysseus, you know, who goes off to fight the Trojan War, and the war goes on a while, Trojan Horse, sea monsters, all that, and then one day…


  5. JeremyT

    Actually, Hannah, I think it was me who said that, but Chelsea has done a good job spreading the idea.


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