Wow, an actual real post during NaNo, can you believe it?
So, my NaNo novel jumps around through a few different time periods.
1) The present (where Jackson is dead in the trunk of Triss' car)
2) The party (before the stabbing) 6 months earlier where Triss and Jackson bet on Fay and Spence hooking up
3) The night Jackson died (Thursday night, the story begins two days later on a Saturday and will end Sunday night)
Sure there's the dead body in the trunk... but since I'm more into character arcs than plot arcs, I'm much more interested in figuring out all the complicated relationships between the characters. The 'why' rather than the 'how' of the death.
In fact, the third timeline (the night Jackson died) is something I'm going to have to go back and insert after I finish writing the story, 'cause at this point, I still have no idea what happened.
So, with the narrator already hopping between three timelines, what about character backgrounds beyond that?
Well, I made a firm decision.
I don't care about the specifics of their backgrounds.
Does that sound, like, completely against all writing rules about knowing your characters inside and out even if the backstory doesn't make it onto the page?
Okay, I have a sense of their backgrounds... the MC's more than Triss' ('cause I am following this strange journey through the even stranger mind of the MC), and there are lots of details littered in and around the scenes, and the reader should be able to pick up other hints through subtext/etc, but I honestly can't tell you why the MC is homeless or what other major events in his/her lift put him/her there. I don't know the major points in Triss' life either, and since Triss and the MC don't talk about deep things, I doubt very much it's ever going to come out in the course of the story, but there are also enough details that the reader will wonder.
With these two characters, the relationship between them is so intense, that their separate pasts and their theoretically separate futures just don't matter to them. They care about surviving the present moment, and despite the fact that they are trying to dump a dead body, because they have each other to lean on, things are just a little bit easier that it otherwise might have been. This is the core nature of their relationship.
So, if that is the case for the characters, then their pasts shouldn't really matter to me or to the reader.
What do you guys think... do you agree? Disagree?
Off the top of my head, I can already think of one, full-length novel where you get almost no sense of past or future for any of the motley collection of *broken* characters, and it is one of my absolutely favourite books (as disturbing as it is).
What are your thoughts on importance of past events, as a reader or as a writer? As a reader, do you get annoyed/frustrated if there aren't clear reasons given as to why a character is so messed up? As a writer, how important do you feel the non-novel-timeline is? Do you usually try to suggest a firm past/future for your characters?
To be honest, I really hate stories where a character behaves horribly and their sad childhood keeps getting brought up to somehow validate their bad behaviour. Alcoholic parents, rape, abuse, etc, sure those are horrible things that change and shape people's lives, but I think it's lazy to use one specific incident/factor like that to *explain* away a character's in-novel behaviour, and it always irritates me as a reader. We are shaped by more than a few bad experiences, so shouldn't our characters be the same?