First, I want to say things are going better this week. After two weeks of being unable to do anything but stare at my laptop screen, I finally broke down and printed my novel out. I didn’t know if it would help, but I had to do something different. Once I got a red pen to the paper, I was shocked at how much easier it was, as well as how much more I’ve ended up changing. Nothing big plot-wise, but quite a bit of word and sentence structure. I’m currently on chapter 8 of 29, and that makes me happy.
Ok, on to what this post is about!
One of my betas mentioned they didn’t feel anything at a particular character’s death. This beta was the only one to feel that way, but it was worth looking at. The character dies in one of the early chapters, and the surface purpose for their death is to further the plot, so I understand how some people might not be able to connect and mourn so early in the book.
However, years ago when I was writing their part, a backstory came out of nowhere and onto the page. Suddenly, this was a whole person to me, rather than just a character. I was so enamored with the character that I clipped out their backstory and tried to use it as a short story for my creative writing class. Needless to say, it wasn’t a short story, and the class received it like luke-warm bathwater. Without the context of the bigger picture, it didn’t work.
So, when the beta said they didn’t feel anything, I immediately thought back to those reviews and started to question the relevance of the backstory to my novel. During my edits, I began to wonder if it was one of those “darlings” I was supposed to kill. I needed a second opinion.
I sent an email to my new, amazing friend, Lauren Sapala. She is also my pro-beta, and I knew she would be able to give me an honest answer. So, I asked, “Should I keep this character’s backstory, or is it fluff? I was expecting a fairly simple “yes” or “no” but was shocked when her reply was quite a bit longer.
In short, she thought I should keep it, but her description as to why floored me. Lauren is nothing short of magic, and cracked open a whole new way of thinking for me. I can’t go into too much detail without giving the character away, but I’ll give you the gist of it. In her opinion, the backstory established this person as someone honorable, and since it is someone important to the MC (who has very few trusted people in his life), it reflected the type of people the MC values and calls a friend.
She went into more detail, identifying the very spirit and personality of this character, then showed me how it mirrors both the MC and the overall novel. I had honestly never thought about it that way, and when I thought about it, she was absolutely right.
One, simple question, and she managed to show me a fantastic layer of meaning. I would have been embarrassed at the fact that she could see MY characters in a way I hadn’t thought to, but I was too busy being excited. I had known I wanted to keep the character, based on how I felt about them, but I couldn’t have put that feeling into words. Now, I can see so many things more clearly, and that was from a small side character!
If this is beginning to seem like a fan-blog dedicated to Lauren, it’s only because she has had such a huge impact on my writing life in a very short amount of time. My mind is opening, and I see her as not only a friend, but a mentor as well. If you’re an INFJ, INFP, or other HSP writer, I strongly recommend you pick up her works: The INFJ Writer and Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers.
One thought on “The Layers of Meaning”
I’m pretty sure I know which character you are referring to. I completely agree that you should keep the backstory, but I think maybe you should change the way it is revealed. There is a lot of info on him right up front and it can be a little bit overwhelming when you don’t know why he’s significant. Maybe you could break it up a little bit by using some dialogue in the bar scene with the MC. I also thought you might use the scene at the farmhouse where the girl and MC are alone at night to talk about what his death meant to her and about the relationship with the mother and brother. You have very strong dialogue skills which would work well to show more emotional depth of your characters. Anyway, whatever you decide I’m sure it will be epic!