Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Backstories

A funny thing happened after I reviewed my editor’s feedback on the first draft of “Tishta the Crystal Orb.” As I analyzed my main protagonist, Coltan, to enhance his story arc, I discovered I needed to know more about him.
Being a vampire, and having to live around and work closely with humans, is part of his challenge, but another part is deeper. It deals with his need for blood which, for him, is also tied to his sexuality. I decided to treat these as addictions. I’m not sure how this is going to work out yet.
I already had an idea of a backstory where Coltan spent time at a monastery and learned “how to wield my weapon properly.” Criften sent him there, not to learn better swordsmanship, but to learn how to separate his sexuality from his need for blood.
Once I started writing this story, it just flowed out. I learned so much about Coltan from writing it. I finished it at the end of last week. I’m hoping it will guide me as I revise Tishta. I’m already starting to incorporate some of it into the book.
An added benefit is, I now have most of another book written. I’m planning to release it after the second Wolf Dream book, “Into the Wolf Dream”—which is about three-quarters finished—is published.
I am a firm believer in writing backstories. I already have many stories about several of my main characters written. They help me know how the character will react to a given situation, and more importantly, why he reacts the way he does.
My backstories about Coltan are the most extensive—I know him as boy, a youth, a young husband and father. I have a complete short story about when he and Criften, the wizard, first met, and many other stories about him.
Some stories are future stories. I need to know where the things that happen in The Wolf Dream Books lead—who survives, how long they live, how they die—and make sure the events support the future I envision. Especially, Coltan. I had to know, so I wrote about his death. It really made me sad. It may not be the actual story of his life, but, like Kano’s visions, it’s one of the possible endings for him.
Malcan’s stories are also quite extensive. He had a rough time as a kid. It helped shape the man he became—the one we see in The Wolf Dream Books.
I more recently wrote an early Criften story, about when he first became a wizard and met his Master Wizard, Kalef. It helped me understand why the two wizards have such a cantankerous relationship. Kalef is introduced in “Into the Wolf Dream.” The story also helped me understand Criften a little better—where he’s coming from; what his issues are. I learned he was a farmer, and that’s all he ever really wanted to be. This is helping me develop his character a little more in “Tishta.”

I’m working on fleshing out Gillan and Toran. My editor wanted to know more about them in “Tishta.” I needed to know their backstories in order to do this. I’ve got some for Gillan now, and I like her more, now that I know her better. Toran’s next.

When I started writing, I wrote the children’s stories. It was much later, when I was trying to figure out where to start Tishta, that these became my first backstories. It was hard to rip out so much of what I thought was going to be “the book.” When I wrote them, Coltan didn’t even exist. He walked into the story, one day. He immediately took over the whole thing. I’m glad he did. I like where it starts now.

I know I’ll be able to share most, if not all, of the backstories in the future. I think my readers would enjoy learning more about the characters.
Copyright ©2014-16 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

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