Thursday, January 8, 2009

What Lies Beneath

When we write there are things hidden there, under the surface, that the reader never sees and yet these things have a great impact on what the reader sees. Among these undercurrents is the back-story. When we plunk a character down in a story he comes from somewhere. He went to school somewhere or he didn’t go to school. He was born in a hospital or somewhere else. He has ex-girlfriends or not. Many things shape the character’s life, but we don’t tell the reader about these things unless they become relevant to the story. Who cares about the character’s ex-girlfriend if he doesn’t know where she lives, but if she parks her car in front of his house every night then it just might be interesting.

Another thing hidden below the surface is what I will call the author’s message. When we write a story, we don’t just sit down with our characters and ask them to describe their day. Nor do we describe the most interesting periods of their day. Instead, we create a day for the character that moves the character through situations that fit the story we want to tell.

Our stories have order and structure. We don’t tell the story and then do the setup at the very end. We don’t spend thirty chapters on setup and then put the story in the last five. Some writers take a more structured approach than others, but there are things that every story must accomplish, in a proper or and having the right length. A writer must think about such things, but a reader need not consider it.