So, what do I mean about enough details to imply a character background without stating any hard-core facts/etc?
Throughout the story, there are lines sprinkled around like these:
I was thirteen and ran with a crowd whose idea of a good time was lifting stuff from the local Walmart, jacking cds and stereo parts from parked cars and selling it all for cash.
It’s not like I’ve ever eaten somewhere fancier than a fast-food joint.
Sure, my fingers still itch sometimes, especially when I’m hungry and I know there’s a buffet-worth of food small enough to stuff up my sleeves at the local 7-11.
You can starve to death on principle. To steal successfully is to understand that morality is like a jacket you can put on and take off.
You want to be loose with resolve and desire. Tension means your brain is getting in the way of your gut and thinking only slows you down.
To survive, you have to be cold.
Hell, if I had to live in that house with Triss’s mom, I’d go back to sleeping in garbage bins behind the mall.
I know she wouldn’t knife me in my sleep or anything, but it’s still hard to relax, to turn your instincts off when you’re wired up a certain way.
Even if the goosebumps are so bad that they prickle and ache when I run a hand over my skin and the muscles in my neck have locked into knots, I can usually push it all away and forget.
“They need to be properly cleaned. Soaping them up in the bathroom sink after school isn’t enough.” I hear a rustle and a muffled laugh. “Ugh, I can’t even tell what color your t-shirt used to be.”
“The kid talks. I thought you were a mute.” He looked me up and down, at my faded, too-small t-shirt and the cheap jeans worn so thin they were more white than blue. “So I guess you’re just a charity case then?”
You never know, in hostels or wherever, who’s prepared to roll you for the clothes on your back and whatever valuables you might have taped to your skin. Or sometimes the threat is much, much worse.
I haven’t had such bad coffee since I lived at home, and those aren’t memories I want to dredge up while in the middle of a journey to dump a dead body somewhere deep and dark where it won’t ever be found.
And then Triss stepped forward and briefly wrapped her arms around me, tighter and harder than she ever normally would, but just long enough to whisper in my ear, “I’m so sorry. I know you don’t like to be touched.”
Now, very few hard details, right? No explanation of why or how or when. There's no sense of blame, like if it was due to the MC, the MC's parents/family/friends or some external force like social services/etc.
But I'm betting every person who reads these lines will spin a slightly different background for the MC.
And y' know, I'm perfectly happy with that. I'm confident my MC is consistent, and that's all that matters to me.
I firmly believe in the right of the reader to make a story their own. I don't particularly enjoy books that wrap up too neatly, that explain every detail and, oh my goodness, let's not even broach the subject of epilogues...
I wonder about my own story while I'm writing it.
And I like to wonder when I'm reading other people's stories.
If there's too much *explaining*, then I get bored, 'cause all the work (and wondering) has already been done for me. I feel like I might as well be reading 200 pages worth of bullet points or a scientific journal outlining, in minute detail, the hows and whys and whens of a particular experiment.
Taking away the *wondering* aspect ruins my fun.
...and anyone who has had me edit/beta-read one of their stories will tell you I'm over-analytical. I like to think through all angles, I constantly throw, 'what if?' questions at the story while I'm reading. I don't necessarily want answers, but I like to examine the possibilities.
...this also means I love brainstorming solutions ;)
So, I'm perfectly happy with readers making what they will from the details I do *know* about my characters, just as I'm perfectly happy whether readers choose to believe the MC is male or if the MC is female.