A Few Words on Backstory

As I work on the third Carrie Shatner Mystery, I find that I'm delving more and more not only into Carrie's backstory, but into my own past as well. And, so far, it has been an interesting ride.

For anyone who doesn't know, backstory is the experiences and life story of the character(s) that occurred prior to the beginning of the novel (or movie, TV show, etc.). Every character has a past - the question is whether their past matters to the narrative. As the main character - and first person narrator - Carrie's past is crucial to the novels. It's just a matter of determining which parts are worth telling. Which parts must the readers be told so they can understand how and why Carrie is the person that she is at the beginning of CRIMINAL MISDEEDS (the first novel in upcoming Carrie Shatner Mystery series)?

As the creator of Carrie Shatner - the puppet master who pulls the strings - I know all of Carrie's backstory because I am the one who made it all up. And I made up the majority of it long before I started writing CRIMINAL MISDEEDS. I had mapped out all of the highlights of Carrie's life, and got to know her on a personal level, before I ever opened up a Word document and began to tell her story. And I did the same for the other main characters in the series.

Parts of Carrie's backstory come out in the first two novels (CRIMINAL MISDEEDS and CRIMINAL CHOKEHOLD), but everything comes to a head in the third novel (CRIMINAL HISTORY). In CRIMINAL HISTORY, Carrie is forced to relive incidents that happened when she was sixteen. She is now thirty-one years old. New evidence in an old case is discovered and Carrie is forced to confront her past as she investigates the homicide. And the deeper she delves into her past, the more stones are overturned and more of her backstory comes out. While it is turning out to be a very painful process for Carrie, she will finally be able to find answers to decades old questions. She will finally be able to lay some of her old demons to rest.

Telling this much of Carrie's backstory isn't easy, but what has made it more manageable for me is that Carrie and I are the exact same age. We even share a birthday. Carrie and I might have had vastly different life experiences, but we grew up during the same time. My interests from when I was sixteen can also be Carrie's interests. She could have listened to the same music as me, watched the same TV shows and movies, had the same celebrity crushes, etc. I used to write in a daily journal when I was a teenager, and that has helped me when it comes to remembering what I had been into when I was sixteen. Reading about my own life and school events  has also helped me map out a timeline of Carrie's sixteenth year.

In the end, writing a character's backstory can be both fun and a pain. It's fun because the writer gets to completely shape the characters' pasts. And it's a pain for the same reason. Especially when it comes to writing a series. A piece of backstory that is revealed in the first novel must remain consistent through the rest of the series whether that series lasts for three books or twenty-three.