What makes a great story? Characters with secrets
October 18, 2017
The plot most always depends on which character has the most intriguing and fascinating backstory.
All novels have a few things in common. They have characters, a few twists, a handful of turns, and a plot. People fall in love. Someone dies.
The hero rides off into the sunset. A Vampire is on the loose. The Mummy has returned. A planet is waiting somewhere beyond the dark side of somewhere else.
So what makes them all different? What makes one novel spellbinding and another so easy to forget.
It’s all in the backstory. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Come into the story as late as possible.” The good stuff has already happened. The old stuff is stuffed with secrets.
One of those secrets may the reason we even have a story.
I walk into a bar.
Maybe it’s a beer joint.
Just go wherever you feel the most comfortable.
I sit down beside the blonde.
I see the black roots.
She wears the perfect attire.
Annie is chewing on a piece of gum.
I hope it’s gum.
“You new in town?” I ask.
She shakes her head.
She laughs. It sounds like music.
“I came from Amarillo about ten years ago,” she says.
“Looking for a job?”
“Looking for a husband.”
“Have any luck?”
“I did in Amarillo.”
“Why’d you leave?”
“I buried him.”
“He was too young to die,” I say.
Annie’s smile faded.
“So am I,” she says.
Beth is wearing tight-fitting jeans.
She has kicked her tennis shoes beneath the table.
Beth’s hair is dark.
It’a the same color as her roots.
She wears a beauty mark beside her mouth.
I think it’s a tattoo.
I may be wrong.
I would offer her a drink, but she has three shot glasses of bourbon lined up on the table in front of her.
None of the glasses has been touched.
“You look like you’re just passing through,” I said.
“I’m waiting for someone.”
“He says he is.”
“Been waiting long?” I ask.
I instinctively glance at the calendar on the wall.
“He may not be coming,” I tell her.
Beth forces a grin.
“He’ll be here.”
“What makes you so sure.”
She pats the front pocket of the tight-fitting jeans.
“I have the key,” she says.
“What he wants.”
It’s a bitter smile.
Beth picks up a shot glass full of bourbon and drains it.
Sandy’s auburn hair catches the reflection of a candle burning on the bar.
It looks like burnished gold.
Her skin is fair.
Sandy has freckles on her face.
I count thirty-seven of them before I stop.
“You waiting for someone, too?” I ask.
“I own the place,” she says.
“You’ve done quite well for yourself.”
“Won it in a poker game,” Sandy says.
“You must have had a good hand.”
“A pair of deuces.”
“The hand you beat must have been pretty bad.”
“We’ll never know.”
“Why do you say that?”
“He said he had to make a phone call and suddenly left the table.”
“He never came back.
“Weren’t you curious?” I ask.
“Didn’t you look at the cards he was holding.”
“He took the cards with him.”
“And you never saw him again.”
“I guess he was gone for good.”
“Were you suspicious?” I ask.
“I wasn’t, but his wife was.”
“What happened to his wife?”
“See the blonde at the corner table?”
I turned my head.
“Ask her yourself,” Sandy says.
I reach for my glass of bourbon.
The ice has melted.
There you have three women with three backstories.
Which of them intrigues you the most?
Which of them would you write about?
I know the woman who fascinates me the most.
But you won’t find out until the story is written.
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