Monday, May 28, 2012

The Power of Backstory ~ guest post by Karen Azinger

Today, we're happy to welcome fantasy author Karen Azinger to the Speculative Salon. She has an interesting article to share. Be sure to check out her new book release, The Skeleton King. 

The Power of Backstory
By Karen Azinger
Author of The Silk & Steel Saga

Creating great fantasy is equal parts world building and character building. Characters are the true heart of any story. The deeper and more complex the characters, the more soul-catching the story will be. We all love to read about brilliantly strategic queens, dauntless knights, corrupt kings, and scheming princes, for it is the characters who sweep us away on tides of emotion. They make us weep for loves lost, shock us with betrayals, and thrill us when crowns are won or lost, but none of this happens unless the reader truly cares for the characters. So how does an author create characters that are both fascinating and believable? One way is by creating a compelling backstory.

Backstory is essentially the character’s background, but for literary purposes it is far more than just the character’s place of birth, his family status, or his schooling. To create a powerful backstory, a writer needs to give his characters emotional landmarks. It is the triumphs and the scars of life that forge the very soul of the character. These emotional landmarks steer the character’s choices like a relentless compass. They give the character hidden depths and make them believable and intriguing. One of the best examples of a powerful backstory is Professor Snape in Harry Potter. Until Snape’s background is revealed, he is a riddle to the readers, a character who seems to serve both the Light and the Dark. Snape’s abiding love for Lilly explains all his actions, all his difficult choices. Everything makes sense in the light of the reveal.

But creating a great backstory can have its risks. Once a writer constructs a detailed backstory, they often feel compelled to spill the beans and tell everything to the reader. Too much backstory will strangle a book to death, choking the story with meaningless detail and tiresome flashbacks. Backstory should be like an iceberg, with most of it hidden below the surface. It is only when the reader draws close to the character that they look down and see what lurks beneath…the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I’ll tell you a secret about backstory…it’s a secret! Who doesn’t love a good secret? Secrets are delicious story questions. The more secrets your characters have the more they will tantalize your readers. Give your characters lost loves, or thwarted ambitions, unfulfilled dreams, secret fears, or skeletons in their closet. Writing in the fantasy genre provides authors with iridescent dimensions that other genres don’t have. Rare magical talents, secret skills, or royal bloodlines are often hidden in the backstory of fantasy characters. But no matter the genre, backstory provides powerful questions that weave beneath the plot and draw the reader through the story.

In my epic fantasy, The Silk & Steel Saga, you’ll find characters with secret pasts, hidden powers, suppressed loves, shocking bloodlines, and buried crimes. From the brilliant Queen Liandra, to the seductive Priestess, to the cunning Lord Raven, you’ll empathize with the good and pray they prevail but you truly feast on the bad who are utterly compelling. 

By using backstory, authors can crate intriguing, multi-dimensional characters that pull readers into their books and keep them coming back for more. 

The Silk & Steel Saga - Set in a medieval world of forgotten magic, The Silk & Steel Saga is a faced-paced epic fantasy with stunning female leads. Kingdoms and characters come alive as they are woven together through twisting plots that surprise and delight the reader. You'll empathize with the good and pray they prevail but you'll truly feast on the bad who are utterly compelling.

Author Bio - Karen L Azinger has always loved fantasy fiction, and always hoped that someday she could give back to the genre a little of the joy that reading has always given her. Nine years ago on a hike in the Columbia River Gorge she realized she had enough original ideas to finally write an epic fantasy. She started writing and never stopped. The Steel Queen is her first book, born from that hike in the gorge. Before writing, Karen spent over twenty years as an international business strategist, eventually becoming a vice-president for one of the world's largest natural resource companies. She's worked on developing the first gem-quality diamond mine in Canada's arctic, on coal seam gas power projects in Australia, and on petroleum projects around the world. Having lived in Australia for eight years she considers it to be her second home. She's also lived in Canada and spent a lot of time in the Canadian arctic. She has a degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University and lives with her husband in Portland Oregon in a house perched on the edge of the forest. Having started as an engineer, she then became an international business strategist, and now she is an epic fantasy author and it is a dream come true!

Link to Author website


Ella Gray said...

Great post, Karen! Snape is a perfect example of how a slowly revealed back story can really make a character compelling. Looking forward to checking out your series :-)

Karen Azinger said...

Thanks Ella! I hope you enjoy my saga!

TheFB Gnome said...

Yes Secrets are the Secret to backstory... The Gnome is Still working that MAJOR part of the story line out for his biography LOL

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