Welcome Carolyn J. Rose.
The role of backstory in Hemlock Lake
What happened before the story contained between the covers of a book began can be crucial to the ways in which both characters and plot will develop. It can even determine where things will stand on the final page.
Events that took place in the past can cast a long and dark shadow over the future. Events set in motion because of past tragedies, gains, losses, or emotional upheavals, can wound a character’s body, mind, and soul. How those wounds heal and the scars they leave can shape thought, action, and emotion.
As he tells Camille Chancellor, an outsider and the one person he feels he can confide in, “Sometimes I feel like one of those butterflies pinned to a piece of cardboard inside a display case. I can see where I’d like to fly to. But I can’t escape without dragging the pins and cardboard with me.”
In less symbolic terms, as my husband Mike Nettleton often puts it, “No matter where you go, there you are.”
Confronted with a setting or background that can’t be changed, a character faces hard choices: fight the situation until it breaks him, give in and go with the flow, or get out. The character who takes that last course of action faces two additional choices: renounce the past, break clean, and start anew, or continue, in a fresh setting, to be influenced by past events and emotional baggage.
In order to redefine himself, Dan moved far from the remote Catskill Mountain community where he was born and raised. But when his mother’s terminal illness brought him back, he discovered that nothing he’d accomplished while he was away changed opinions held in Hemlock Lake. He finds that only that part of his life up until he left is important. He feels out of synch, inferior, still the quarterback who couldn’t lead his team to victory, still the boy who didn’t like to hunt, who lost himself in books.
When someone threatens to torch an upscale development in his hometown, Dan is assigned to the case. He finds himself in a no-man’s land between newcomers and long-time residents who oppose the development and stonewall his investigation as they cling to the way things were. Bound by what he calls “a family code of honor to meet responsibility and do his job,” Dan can’t walk away, and he can’t go with the flow and sandbag the investigation. He stays and he fights—to solve the crimes and free himself of the past.
As those who read Hemlock Lake will discover, that fight is nearly fatal.
Thank you Carolyn.
What about you? How do you use back story in your books? Leave your comments and questions before you click away!