A reader recently commented that he was not interested in any backstories because he was only interested in what was actually “officially” published as part of the complete story (he later recanted after he read one of the backstories).
That prompted this post as a follow-up to my previous post Why a Backstory? in the way of clarification.
Yes, some of the backstory information was never intended to be used in the actual published story. But some of it was. In fact, some of the backstory are bits that were cut from my original drafts. I did that mainly to keep the momentum from slowing down too much. In other cases, I decided that the information was not really needed where it was located, I cut it, and it wound up not being critical at all.
Besides backstories of a biographical nature, other passages also wound up “on the cutting room floor.” You might think of them as “deleted scenes.” Granted, some of them may contain answers to questions that readers might have. But I cut them anyway.
In one such passage, two men pore over old documents, and they discuss questions about certain recurring themes and mysterious passages that seem to deal with the arrival of a New Unknown King. Another passage that I cut out was about a dream that Billy had, one that seemed to foretell certain things about the next Unknown King. I really liked that passage, or that “scene.” But I cut it, anyway, because, as powerful as it was, the dream did not have the consequence that the story needed from it.
On the other hand, some of my rough notes contained passages that, at the time of writing, I did not think were all that useful for advancing the tale. I was wrong, and they wound up being included.
All this just goes to show that it is difficult to predict, with a blank sheet of paper in front of you, whether what will be written on it will be of any use. As a writer, all I can do is write and hope, edit and revise, all with fingers crossed. When it works out, then great! When it doesn’t work out, that’s fine, too. Chop!!
So what might a reader get out of backstory?
I’ve been surprised by some of the things that people have said they liked most about the story. Some say they love the descriptions of the places and settings. Others mention particular events in the story that they found striking. And more than a few readers have mentioned certain characters that they had come to worry about and fret over.
Therefore, in my way of thinking, a backstory that relates to any of the above aspects of the story might be interesting for the reader. Moreover, a receptive reader might find one or two backstories of particular interest because of the event or character that is further explained or delved. For example, after reading the backstory of Danig Tallin (Lord Tallin), one reader commented that she then found him to be a more sympathetic character than his portrayal within the story (i.e., within The Year of the Red Door).
What is of greater value, I think, is how these little snippets fill out the landscape of The Year of the Red Door by providing answers, insights, or explanations that are not in the main body of The Year of the Red Door.
I’ll share two examples:
Example 1: Ned Arbuckle, Bridge Tender
Within that story are some details about the defenses built by the Altorians to help safeguard the Hinderlands against an attack by the Dragonkind. Arbuckle was instrumental in enhancing the Altorian defenses. Those details concerning the wooden roadways and drawbridges that pass through the marshes are absent from The Year of the Red Door, but some of the characters (in The Year of the Red Door) express doubt as to whether the Dragonkind could launch a full-scale invasion through the Hinderlands. The Altorian defenses, enhanced by Ned Arbuckle, was a good reason for having such doubts.
And besides that, Arbuckle was connected in some way or other to other characters. And Arbuckle’s career work in the shipbuilding trade would be critical to Captain Makeig at the Battle of Grisland Strait (described in To Touch a Dream).
Example 2: Tyrin Spritsul, Mercenary
Why, in The Bellringer, did Raynor give Tyrin Spritsul the task of bringing Lady Esildre to Duinnor? How did Raynor know that Tyrin was trustworthy and capable? The backstory explains. Tyrin was not your run-of-the-mill mercenary. He was intelligent, educated, and an expert fighter, all of which was demonstrated by a variety of circumstances to Raynor. In fact, Raynor and Tyrin had quite an amiable relationship, different though they were in so many ways.
So there are two minor examples of what backstories can reveal. Some of the other backstories come quite close to containing spoilers, although they do not contain information that is critical to understanding The Year of the Red Door. But for readers who really enjoy delving into a rich fictional world, full of interlinking histories and relationships, then the backstories provide new aspects to explore and, I hope, enjoy.