Everything has its own unique story, a history, that “what made you who you are” element. When you sit in a coffee shop and listen to the chatter, the unspoken backstory is the thing that makes you want to know more about the people. It influences the way we see them, the way we interact with them, and this understory ultimately, impacts our decision to want to know more about them.
Take the characters in your favorite book, for example. The backstory is the difference between a character who jumps off the page and one who seems one-dimensional and wooden. Enticing, or boring. Writing a character with fears, beliefs and deeply ingrained flaws brings the story to life. Take Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, for example. If Camile’s backstory of abuse, cutting, boozing, and hospitalization were left out of the story, it would have been a pretty dull book.
I like to think the idea of a backstory applies to just about everything. A few posts back, I mentioned how much in common writing and home renovation have with one another. The hardwood floors are done, the baseboards, paint and trim – all done. What’s missing?
Yeah, yeah, nobody puts baby in a corner, but unless I want to continue to write from my perch on the dog bed, need to get the writing desks finished. Don’t get me wrong, the dog bed is comfy, when the pups let me have it. But, I need something with a little history, a backstory, for inspiration.
I’ve spent hours scouring Northern California salvage yards for just the right material. Barn wood was a thought, until yesterday when I toured an old lumber mill in Camino, California. The mill was built in 1901 and operated until the housing bubble burst in 2009. The original timbered structures are coming down and the material is perfect for my desk. Thick, heavy and greyed from a hundred years of service.
And imagine the backstory. All the people who worked under this building, the lies told, stories swapped, births celebrated and deaths mourned. Generations of hard work and creative energies left an imprint on this wood. Hopefully, some of this energy will continue on, inspire my writing and always remind me the importance of the backstory.