Queen Bella was shaped like a gumdrop. And colored like a raspberry. She was easily the most beloved person in the kingdom, and had been married to the king long before he began mumbling. Prince Humperdink was but a child then, and since the only stepmothers he knew were the evil ones from stories, he always called Bella that or “E.S.,” for short.
(Daniel Goldman, The Princess Bride)
Who even knew that “The Princess Bride” was a book?
I didn’t, until last year (or so), when a good friend lent me her copy.
“Better than the movie,” she said.
And it was.
And after I read it, I saw the movie again. And I realized that so many lines allude to the backstory developed in the book.
Backstory is important. It provides depth. Characters are more than paper-deep. They’re real; they have a history. We cheer for them and mourn their losses.
But building depth and a backstory is not always easy. But it shouldn’t be too hard either.
So how do you create backstory?
Think about the difficulties in your own life. What you have to overcome and what you’ve felt in terms of setbacks. What about friends who have stabbed you in the back and perhaps as a result have shaped the way you view friendship?
We like to pretend that our lives are wonderfully blissful, that we have a gazillion friends and that it’s all about having a good time. But we all know what it feels like to be down and not to want to get out of bed. We all know what it’s like to feel alone; that it’s us against the world. We all have those days.
The trick is, to use the lows (and highs) to write about the way we feel. Remembering the emotion and what put us there can help us develop our backstory.
I don’t know Goldman’s background, whether he had a stepmother or if he simply borrowed the idea from all the other fairytales that have evil stepmothers. But here’s the twist. Humperdink, a ridiculous prince, cannot see the good, or perhaps does not want to see the good of his step mother. Everybody loves her. But he must call her “Evil Stepmother.”
The mumbling king. You remember him from the movie, of course. A kind man that seems to be suffering from dementia. But he’s mumbling the entire time and somehow, it makes him so endearing. Especially in contrast to his son, Prince Humperdink. But that mumbling king, he seems to me somehow sucked out of Goldman’s own life, or perhaps from the life of someone he knew.
Latch on to a detail from your life and pull it in to your story. Specifically, the backstory of one of your characters. Your readers will thank you for a richer and more satisfying reading experience.