Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Importance of Back Story

As I sit here working through the final hardcopy edits of my Prayers of Perversion novella, I'm amazed by how much much of an impact the inclusion of a little back story can have, and by how much it can transform a story.

In hindsight, the original draft was a flat, linear narrative that introduced a pair of characters, took them through various events, and left them in a different place. It works fine as a sexual fantasy - which is how the story began - but it's somewhat lacking as a proper novella. It didn't strike me at the time of writing it, but without any back story for the characters, there's no significance to anything that happens. Without any significance, there's no hook (emotional or intellectual) to engage the reader. You can skim through the story, skip the narrative bits, read the erotic bits, and not really have the experience suffer.

It's actually kind of embarrassing to note, but I'll take solace in the fact that owning up to it is making me a better writer - or so my beta readers keep assuring me - and that addressing that weakness has resulted in a story of which I can be proud, rather than just satisfied.

Take a look at the 2 drafts of the same scene below:

FROM THE ORIGINAL DRAFT

Just then, he saw her. There was a sea of people between them, and he didn't even get a good look, but she had captured his soul just the same. Forgetting the fruitless job-hunting, he dropped the envelope of resumes from his suddenly-sweaty hand and made a beeline through the crowd.
"Hey, watch it!"
"Use some friggin' manners!"
"Where's the fire, asshole?"
His mind and body locked on one goal -- reaching her -- Paul neither heard nor felt the people into whom he was crashing. Plowing through the mass of early Christmas shoppers, he took the bumps and shoves in stride, not caring who got in his way. The level of his obsession was kind of frightening, but too powerful too resist.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he found her.
Standing just inside the jewellery store, she seemed to somehow stand apart from everyone around her. The strange woman stood a little more than six feet tall, with a perfect body that couldn’t have possessed more than an ounce of fat. Slim, sexy legs gave way to a narrow waist, which blossomed into a spectacular, natural bustline that the greatest plastic surgeon couldn't hope to duplicate.
Awestruck, Paul could only whisper "Who are you?" from afar. Certain that he could never approach such an enchanted creature, he nevertheless screwed up his courage and took those final steps.
FROM THE CURRENT DRAFT
That was when he saw her.
There was a sea of people between them, and he didn't even get a good look, but it was her. He knew it. Her face, her hair, her figure, her very posture confirmed it. It didn’t matter that he’d never met her in person.
Fifteen years ago, long before he’d met his wife, she had been his dearest friend. Together, they had virtually encouraged the expression of each other’s femininity. It was she who had taught him how to apply lipstick, and he who taught her how to disguise a run in her hose; she who taught him how to adjust his bra straps to create the illusion of enhanced cleavage; and he who taught her the awkward art of tucking.
For years, she had been the only witness, other than the mirror, to the expression of his femininity. She had accepted and encouraged him, taking the time to help him develop, even as she struggled to finance her own transformation. That commitment was what initially set them, and ultimately kept them, apart.
He’d had his chance to be with her – more importantly, to be himself with her – but his cowardice had doomed him. She had wanted him to run away with her to Hollywood, just a pair of girls having fun with their lives, while she pursued her dreams of being an adult film star. As tempting as the idea was, he just couldn’t do it. He’d had plenty of excuses, most of them as transparent as they were lame, but she’d never called him on a single one.
Instead, she left him with the ultimatum that severed their friendship. Cut off and cast adrift, he had regretted that cowardice every day since, even as he looked up to her more than ever. For the next few years, right up to the night of his marriage, she had continued to encourage him from afar. Although they never talked again, no matter how life would bring him down, or how unfeminine he might be feeling, he had always been able to look to her as an example of what a braver woman might aspire to.
She was his transsexual goddess of transformation. More than that, as clich├ęd as he knew the thought might be, she was also his destiny.
Paul dropped everything – which, admittedly, wasn’t much more than an envelope full of creased resumes – and made a beeline for her through the crowd.
"Hey, watch it!"
"Use some fucking manners!"
"Where's the fire, asshole?"
He was focused on a single goal – reaching her before she disappeared for another fifteen years. He neither heard nor felt the people into whom he was crashing, even when a few boyfriends and husbands looked ready to drop him with a well-aimed fist. He ploughed through the mass of shoppers and took the bumps and shoves in stride, not caring who got in his way. If he’d stopped to think about it, the intensity of his obsession would have been frightening, but it was also too powerful too resist.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he had found her.
It meant something. It just had to.
He wasn’t willing to accept anything less.
Standing a few feet inside the jewellery store, she seemed to somehow stand apart from everyone around her. As he approached, Paul realised his heart was racing, his throat was dry, and his hands were shaking. He was actually taken aback for a moment when he realised she was dressed like your average, ordinary housewife – assuming, of course, that your average, ordinary housewife came equipped with a 42 DD chest, 27 inch waist, and 38 inch hips – but he knew it was her.
He was completely awestruck by her. She was his destiny. He just knew it. Everything that had happened over the last fifteen years had been orchestrated to rectify his mistake and bring him back to her.
Fate had demanded its price, and how it was ready to give him a second chance.
Not only is it better written (I hope!), but the revised scene carries so much more weight, and has so much more significance for both characters. The original scene came just 377 words into the story, while the revised scene is preceded by five time as much set-up and back story. In this new draft, Paul is transformed into a far more sympathetic character, while his Goddess actually becomes a character, as opposed to just a stock icon in some female domination fantasy.

I know it's hard to judge from just a snippet, but for those friends who remember the original, I hope this gives you a glimpse into how much the story has grown. For those of you just stumbling across my little blog . . . well, I hope it whets your appetite for the finished product!

♂↔♀

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