The backstory

Backstory is important, you’ll agree.  It’s what gives depth and weight to a narrative, allowing us to understand motivations and giving us context.  A common error authors make is letting the backstory overwhelm the narrative.  Then, it’s pages and pages of genealogy or irrelevant details about, for instance, the hero’s years spent kayaking in the Pacific Northwest, even if the novel is a legal thriller set in DC and having nothing to do with water craft.  Well thought out and incorporated backstory, however, is a joy.

Always having been intrigued by the part of the iceberg that hides beneath the water (to mangle part of a Hemingway quote), I also like to know the interesting arcana about the books themselves.  I like to know what the author was thinking, why s/he made the choices s/he did, what weird circumstances were taking place in the author’s life during the writing of the book, etc.   Being on our side of the publishing biz, we know a lot of books’ backstories—some funny, some sad, some sexy, some…surprising—and I always feel that they add a dimension to the reading experience.

If you’re like me in this respect, check out this clever and informative Buzzfeed compilation of weird book factoids, creation tales, and trivia.  My favorite?  Nabokov, notecards and butterfly nets in hand while creating Lolita.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve learned about a book you love?

4 Responses to The backstory

  1. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    Notecards and butterfly nets, eh? OK, you’ve just given us the outline of a really tasteless South Park episode, but we’ll let it go. I’m still trying to figure out Bram Stoker’s backstory to the brilliance of DRACULA as opposed to the melodramatic, overwrought potboilers like JEWEL OF THE SEVEN STARS that he spent the rest of his life grinding out. One likes to think of talent as a continous feed, but his career makes one wonder… Scary thought, eh?

  2. Katie Newingham says:

    I think I remember reading Charlotte Bronte was having an affair with a married man while writing Jane Eyre – can totally see that being processed out in the book.

  3. Tamara says:

    That perhaps the best last line of a book ever (The Great Gatsby) was originally in the opening sequence: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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