Sunday, April 24, 2011

When Backstory...Isn't

**Spoiler Alert - this post contains spoilers for the movie HEREAFTER.

This weekend the family and I sat down and watched HEREAFTER starring Matt Damon. As a big Matt Damon fan, I tend to love all his movies. My daughter,though, had seen this one in the theatre and had warned me that I wouldn't care for it.

Impossible! Okay maybe not impossible, but Matt has a great thumbs up record in my book. Anything starring him, I give the benefit of the doubt.

Sadly, my daughter called exactly it right.

As writers, we study craft and by learning craft, we are changed. You never quite look at stories the same. Subconciously, you're waiting for the next step in the hero's journey to unfold. You're gathering clues through great (or not so great) dialogue. You're making mental notes about character and, of course...backstory.

As the closing credits played across the screen, my daughter turned and asked my opinion. I sighed.

She was right. I didn't care for the movie. IMO, it was slow. Too slow. The fact that a third of it was in French with English subtitles turned the pacing to molasses. But the main problem was pretty simple: it was backstory.

Now, honestly I'm not here to bash any artist's vision, but the trailers set up the story as something very different than what the movie delivered. And that is something we, as writers, need to stay conscious about: backstory is NOT the story.

We love our characters like children. We live with them 24/7 until we push them out into the world. We adore them so much that we want to share every little discovery. Remember that crazy enthusiastic first-time mom who shares every breath of her pregnancy with a total stranger on line at the supermarket checkout? Yeah. That's us and too much backstory = TMI.

Your reader only needs to know enough backstory to flesh out the character. And it should always relate to the real story you're telling. It's "why" or the underlying motivation of the action. Underlying being the operative word here.

If it takes center's just another diaper tale.