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Anyone Else Want to Have Their Backstory Written?

October 7, 2011

It seems it’s all about the secondary characters right now.

It started off with Jolymella from my eternally-dragging-on story Masks – she’s the main character’s boyfriend’s best friend, and earlier this year, she started to share some tidbits about herself (how she met Lionno, what she studies…) and a little about her husband (his name, his rather amusing profession… he’s a condom dealer. Believe me, it makes sense in the context of the story.)

And then, in June, she practically marched up to me (yes, this is all happening in my head, but as Professor Dumbledore said, why on earth should that mean it’s not real?) and declared she would tell me the story of her life – how her childhood dream of running away from home and joining a circus led her to meet her husband Arowan, and eventually saved her life. I foolishly believed her when she assured me it would be a quickly told story, “just a few pages”, and started to write “Wirü Timay’a/Tell Me, Sister”.

Of course, nothing is ever just a few pages, and then I got busy preparing for the Italy trip and had no more time to write, and while we were travelling, there was of course even less time to write. I did, however, spend a lot of time on that trip exclaiming about how the landscape looked just like the Kivailo country, and giggling to myself as I imagined meeting Arowan on one of those mountain roads.

Was it during that trip that Arowan took such clear shape in my mind? Probably. I wondered for weeks where Arowan’s face came from – I’m not good with faces, remembering them, describing them, imagining them, but I could see Arowan very clearly, with his broad face, flat nose, big grin, with his shaggy hair and stocky build.

It wasn’t until weeks later, talking to my best friend, that I realized where he came from. We were talking about her main character, and the haircut he had just given himself, and I said, “Reminds me of my classmate T. when she cut off her dreadlocks… waaaaiiiit… I found Arowan!”

T. had precisely Arowan’s face, she had the short shaggy hair, even the right body type – but of course I didn’t think of her, because I was busy searching the men’s faces I’d seen. In the meantime, Jolymella was continuing to tell me about her life, I worked on “Tell Me, Sister” on and off, trying not to be distracted by what Arowan and Jolymella’s second husband Tarlan (I had to kill Arowan… I didn’t want to, because I really like Arowan, but you can’t write a story without being cruel occasionally. But I think Jolymella and Tarlan are cute together as well, that’s my consolation.) were telling me about themselves. I would not write any more backstories (even when they involved condom dealer apprenticeships)!

As summer passed, it became time to think about NaNoWriMo. I had a story picked out – two independent stories, originally, but I had discovered how they were linked. So what should I be doing? Make a timeline, research, plot, find out stuff about my main characters Julius and Annabell. What am I doing instead? Listening to two more secondary characters chattering on in my head.

Fox and Raven also come from “Masks”, where the main character met them at a demonstration. They never introduced themselves properly, never told me their real names, but I liked those two girls. They were kind, outgoing, somewhat eccentrically dressed, and cheerfully unconcerned about the fact that the demonstration was illegal and they were likely going to be arrested.

For the first draft of “Masks”, they were nothing more than that – just two nice strangers Emma meets a few times, always together. Some time during the second draft, however, they briefly popped into my head to say, “Oh, by the way, we’re not just friends. We’re a couple.” OK, fine, I said, so I now have some gay characters. Nice, but who cares? And for the longest time, that seemed to be the end of it.

Until about two weeks ago, when they popped into my head again. But this time, they were there to stay – talking up a storm! While I worked, they told me how they met, what their families are like, their real names (though they’re still Fox and Raven to me), what they are afraid of, what they look like, what they’re studying, what pets they have, why they are at the demonstration where Emma meets them, anything and everything. And after a few days, they started to insist they should be included in my NaNo story!

I didn’t want to let them at first. I already have two only-slightly-connected stories.

But of course, that did not deter them. “If they only have to be slightly connected,” they said, cheerfully unconcerned as always, “we can do that!” And Raven proceeded to tell me about how her brother is the boyfriend of the woman my main character Julius tries to blackmail.

I wasn’t too happy, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave them out. It’s hard enough not to write down the things they tell me already, to save them for November, and I’m not nearly as excited about Julius or Annabell. And I need something to be excited about – this will be the first NaNoWriMo during which I will be living on my own, and the first during which I will be working, so there will be rather less time to write. The more excited I am about a story, the faster I’ll write of course, the less I will allow myself to get sidetracked by checking e-mail, forums, blogs… (glad I’m not on Facebook).

And now Fox has shown me another connection, a meeting between Annabell and her grandfather and Fox’s brother (what’s it with all those brothers?) – this is turning into quite the spider web of stories, many individual strands that just cross once… so tempting to keep adding more and more, see how big I can make the web, but I really hope I manage to stick to these three for now!

Or at least – if anyone else wants their backstory written, they can bloody well tell me right now, and not three days before NaNo starts! Otherwise, shut up until December and let me work on “Goblins” in peace!

(Well, at the very least this ensures a lot of story-chatter the next time I meet my best friend. For the last few meetings, I’ve had little to contribute, while she could talk and talk and talk about her stories – but now mine are doing stuff again! Yay!)


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