Fluidity and Rigidity
After a brief discussion with Jeff Baker, I hit upon the idea of extending a comment that I made regarding back story. One could say I was inspired by what I said *laughs at own joke*.
Anyway. I touched upon the subject of fluidity, and different approaches that could be made regarding back story. Now personally, I favour having a rigid back story. The Canon so to speak. It may sound like a drag, sorting out the back story before you get to work on the actual writing, but if you have it all laid out beforehand, you can speed through a story faster. I guess a rigid back story is like a safety net. It’s always there, so you know that there’s something. I’m not saying you have to have all the minutiae written out for every character, but a definite outline I always find useful. Quite handily, I opted out of a rigid back story in my most recent effort, and went for the alternative.
What if you write more on the fly? Is it really that bad to come up with the back story as you go along? It can offer a little more freedom with characters and how they behave if you don’t have a set-in-stone back story for them.
I’ve written about improvisational writing in the past, and the dangers it can pose, and fluidity here is somewhat similar. Of course, with back story you do have to have some sort of loose framework. Enough structure that allows you to navigate, and fill in the gaps as you go. Being fluid with the back story can also be an advantage. For example, if you have a rigid back story, what if you hit a plot point that cant be resolved with that? I’ve hit this problem before, and I have gone to huge lengths to write around it, creating implausible scenarios and adding maybe thirty-forty extra minutes of screen-time (this was a screenplay idea I was working on) in order to try and get myself out of this hole. If you work with a more fluid back story, then you will encounter this problem far less frequently.
There are of course dangers here. Especially if you try to move between the two. There isn’t much middle ground, and if you’re not careful, your back story can get fragmented all over the place. Making even minor changes can result in a ripple effect, which can result in having to rewrite huge swathes of material later down the line. Or it can open up huge plot holes. TV shows do this all the time. By either introducing siblings to main characters that have never been mentioned before, or completely changing a characters backstory, just to get some new plotlines going. Heroes did this a lot, which is one of the reasons it tanked.
On the other hand, it can allow you to experiment. Writing is after all about experimentation, is it not? Until a piece of writing is actually published, it can always be altered, and improved upon. If you do hit a wall in the narrative, then you can return to your back story and experiment. I’m not saying that you should completely change a particular character’s back story (unless its an emergency, I’ve had to do that in order to give a character, you know, motivation), but making small changes here and there to experiment can be helpful.
Above all, Experiment
Yes, I am aware that I have somewhat contradicted myself, but sometimes you have to. You may just experiment as a thought exercise, just to open up new avenues, or you may need to in order to get past one of those trouble plot issues. Sometimes even the most rigid of back stories need to be changed. Or at least clarified. I know that the few major back story changes I’ve made in my own work have been for the better. Also, remember that it’s your work. Unless you write non-fiction, it’s your world that you’re creating. You’re not going to rewrite the holocaust (unless you need to) so, as ever, experiment…