So, for the past five years (or so), I’ve been missing a major cultural phenomenon. In fact, I’ve been avoiding it. But this summer, I decided to jump in, head first, and not look back. Yes, I’ve decided to watch that television show, via DVD, which I’ve heard so much about, Lost. I avoided it because so much fuss has been made about what’s going on on that crazy island and how complex it all is and all the unanswered questions . . . oh my! I was a huge X-files fan and ultimately disappointed by the muddled mythology of that show, so I wasn’t interested in getting sucked into something that seemed likely to disappoint. After much urging from Jeff (and his willingness to watch it all again with me), I decided to make my extracurricular activity this summer viewing the first four seasons of this show.
So, now I’m half of the way through season three, and I must say, I’m impressed . . . but not for the obvious reasons. The mystery of the island and the monster in the jungle and the Dharma Initiative are all a part of a complex MacGuffin, and ultimately not what is interesting about the show. It’s a good show because of the rich backstories created for almost every character. The MacGuffin drives the plot, but the rich character development is why I watch the show. Sure, I’m curious how everything is going to fit together in the end, but that’s not why I find the show pleasurable.
In my own writing backstory plays a very important role. I like to dig in and get into the pasts of my characters, which is part of the reason I find writing in the short story form somewhat frustrating. Of course, the trick is knowing how much backstory is too much, and where to fit it in so as to keep the narrative pace strong and best illuminate the psychology of the characters’ actions in the present tense of the story. As I’m revising my novel, I’m keeping this in mind. It’s a much more difficult thing to do in fiction than on TV or in film . . . but in my modest estimation, it’s essential to a good novel.