Category Archives: Books

Backstory

For writers backstory is important. Knowing what happened in the lives of your characters before they showed up on the page matters. It makes for richer, more realistic characters. Backstory can also be a trap, like research. Only a very small percentage of a character’s backstory ever appears in a book, but building the backstory can be a refuge from writing if you’re struggling to get words on paper.

For the last few days I have been thinking about a different kind of backstory; the story behind the book or song and whether knowing it enhances love of the book, movie, song or poem, or whether it detracts. What prompted this reflection was (finally) watching the movie “Saving Mr. Banks”. I loved the movie although I wanted to shake Mrs. Travis more than once as she grouched and griped and abused those around her, albeit quietly and with great English understatement. I mentioned how much the movie appealed to me to a friend who stated emphatically that she hated it! HATED. IT. Not only that, it ruined Mary Poppins for her forever. She couldn’t watch it with the same joy knowing it sprang from a sad place.

Hm. Not my reaction at all.

For me the backstory makes the Mary Poppins movie richer and more nuanced and that tends to be my reaction to backstories. My family loves the Jarrod Neiman song “Lover Lover”. A couple of years ago I found a story online about how the song was written. According to this source (which I can no longer find so perhaps the story was wholly untrue…) the song was written one morning when the songwriter awakened late to find that his wife had taken his little daughter out for a walk. And left no coffee in the pot. From that came:

Well the truth, Well it hurts to say
I’m gonna pack up my bags and I’m gonna go away
I’m gonna split, I can’t stand it
I’m gonna give it up and quit
Ain’t never comin back
Oh but before I get to goin’ I got to say
I know you used to love me
But that was yesterday
And the truth I won’t fight it
When the love starts burnin’ you got to do what’s right

Oh, lover, lover, lover
You don’t treat me no good no more
Oh, lover, lover, lover
You don’t treat me no good no more

For me the whimsy of a break up song (a really good break up song!) written tongue in cheek because of an empty, cold coffee pot adds fun to the song and makes me smile every time I hear it, even if the story isn’t completely true. For others, the banality of an empty coffee pot would ruin the more traditional meaning of the lyrics.

So what do you think? Do you like knowing where stories, songs, movies that you love sprang from or do you want to apply your own meaning to what you read or see?