The right setting can turn backstory into revelation. Where things are brought to light is as important as what is shared. As in real life the right setting can draw out truths. Some people think best when they are walking along their favorite path. A conversation over a cup of coffee with a good friend might open the door to sharing a secret. Changing a tire in the rain can bring out frustration and anger over things unrelated to the tire.
When I wrote my first two novels, various setting helped set the mood for what was going on with my characters. I love dialog, but spewing out information for the sake of information is so much backstory.
In my contemporary romance. New Duet, Isabella Wilson is rebuilding her life. Her controlling late husband and his mother told her how to think. Escaping to Aurora to start over is a big step for her. After reconnecting with her sister Mindy, the two of them go to lunch at an Irish Pub. Mindy points out all the interesting architectural features knowing Isabella’s artistic mind would enjoy the atmosphere. Here is a portion of Isabella’s inner thoughts as she enjoys the ambiance.
Isabella’s neck ached from trying to see every corner of the room without leaving her chair. She envisioned Maureen’s shocked expression if she saw them eating in a bar. The thought made Isabella smile. Not one muscle tightened into a cower. No carefully worded reply to the picture of Maureen’s scowl came to mind. Ming’s joyful presence was a buffer for her thoughts.
Notice how backstory is interwoven naturally. We see how much her mother-in law and late husband still have control over her.
Here is a piece of dialog from the same setting that gives us more backstory without bemoaning her fate in a narrative info dump fashion.
Ming gave her a mischievous grin. “Guess what’s downstairs below this very restaurant.” She leaned forward. “The Basement of the Dead.”
“A laser tag game where you get to shoot Zombies. On
Halloween, it has a pretty impressive haunted house.” She laughed and pointed. “That look on your face is priceless. All shock and awe.”
Isabella schooled her expression, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, the church Ron and I attended might have boycotted it.”
See how much more powerful the comments are in context of the setting?
I sent Isabella to an Art Gallery that featured Wounded Warrior Art and Photos. She is trying to coax her artist muse back to life. The final photograph helps her resolve to overcome. The soldier is in his formal army uniform with all his medals. He is seated in a wheel chair with a leg of his uniform folded up. She sees something familiar in his eyes.
Isabella gazed at the photo a while longer. If this soldier could exude peace with his visible wounds, she could seek that same peace with her internal ones. Father, I want to try. Confidence rested on her shoulders for the first time.
Artists feed their souls with art. Isabella finding confidence and peace from a well-done photograph fits her character and makes it believable that she would respond as she does. It’s not preachy but natural.
In my next post I’ll share examples of how the setting mirrors the mood of a character in a scene.
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