Every character has a history. But, you can’t put it all into the front story. Here is a chunk of backstory for Lyle and Jaric. They became estranged after this incident 40 years ago.
But in 2013, they become inadvertently involved in another edge-cutting technology project. They need each other to complete it.
I’m trying to show what kind of characters these guys are. Give me a few lines (for the front-story) of their first re-encounter. Give the reader something of their past and expectations for the new project.
Chunk of Backstory
1973-05-08 10:30 26805 2 Kitt Peak, AZ Lyle finds Jaric via storage firm and is pissed for their work left suspended.
Lyle drove over to Jaric’s apartment. As he climbed the stairs to the 2nd floor, he noticed Jaric’s door was ajar. With a loud knock he called out, “Jaric,” and pushed the knob.
The smell of fresh paint greeted him. The furniture was gone.
A woman tending Desert Paintbrush (castilleja chromosa) plants around the first floor patio called up to him, “Can I help you?”
Lyle turned to her and said, “This apartment looks empty.”
“You wanting to rent?”
“No, just looking for Jaric Bishop.”
“Don’t know. Beekman Storage picked up his stuff April 30th.”
“Where’d they take it?”
Lyle called the storage company and asked to look for some important papers in Jaric’s stuff. They refused because he was not the owner.
Lyle asked Kitt Peak Security to see if they could get access to Jaric’s stuff. Two weeks later, through contacts in the Tuscon police department, they found out the entire lot had just been shipped to an address in Columbus, OH.
1973-05-22 12:30 26807 3 Columbus, OH Lyle gets his phone number via Ohio State Dean’s Office and demands he finish their project.
A call to the Dean’s Office at Ohio State University confirmed Jaric was a new hire… with a phone number.
Lyle called him, “You just pulled stakes and left?”
Jaric said, “I had to. Ever since Suzette moved out, it’s been too emotional to even work in the same building as her.”
“Well, sorry to hear about your ménage à trois, but we have a project to finish. We’ve got two days, or we’ll miss the deadline to submit to Nature.”
Jaric said, “There’s always next issue.”
“No, not quite that easy. They have commitments for reviewers. We can’t be late, or they’ll pass us by altogether.”
“I didn’t bring hard-copy of my notes. Most of them are in the Kitt Peak mainframe.”
“Has the DRPANET expanded to Ohio State?”
“No, I asked Monday. Not for six months… you know, budgets.”
“Then find a modem and login from there. We have to finish this before the Mount Wilson team. I friend said they’re ready to publish.”
“That’ll cost me a fortune in long distance phone calls.”
“Tough. The mainframe has a 9600 baud user line. Find a good modem. Use it.”
Note: Jaric delayed them a week and the two teams ended up publishing simultaneously… a big disappointment.
Okay, here’s what I came up with:
Lyle stirred his tea and watched Jaric maneuver between the banquet tables as he approached the dais. It took most of a minute.
When he arrived, Jaric said, “I heard, six months ago, you were going to retire. Got plans after Kitt Peak?”
“No regular hours, but I’ll consult from time to time.”
“Still have access to the labs?”
“Of course… but only for legitimate purposes.”
Jaric paused, then said, “Oh, this is legitimate. In fact, could change the way we communicate in space.”
Lyle sipped his tea.
Jaric said, “Look Lyle, I had to leave the Salarians experiment. You did a fine job by yourself.”
“That wasn’t the plan. It took me another month to wrap up the report. The Wilson team just about scooped the whole thing.”
Jaric reached into his tux coat and retrieved the demodulator sketch and flattened it out on the table cloth. “Can we put our past aside for the moment and look at this?”
Lyle didn’t acknowledge the page, but studied Jaric’s bushy eyebrows and said, “Sure, if you’ll commit to finish it.”
Jaric said, “Yep. This is the future.”
Lyle looked down at the diagram, studied it for a moment, then said, “What? Looks like any old WWII FM receiver.”
“Well, it is, except the frequencies are Infrared.”
Thanks Dean, yes, send me a copy.
Great stuff, Don. This sort of workup has to be very helpful to the writer looking around in his story, poking behind the furniture and opening drawers, etc. to find out what’s gone before the curtain went up.
I was going to post a similar exercise from my own work, long ago when I was developing the characters for the “Barkis” series. It’s a scene in The Tin Hat, where I get all meta- and Vonnegut-ish, and chat with the three major characters and a couple of minors and interrogate them about their backstory. The piece turns out to be north of ten pages so I won’t post it here, but if anyone’s interested, email me.