Monday, July 08, 2013

Egads! A Late "And the Winner of the Character Past Contest is..."

Okay, bad me, and I apologize. I just discovered I forgot to announce the character past contest winner last Tuesday. I was traveling that weekend and I blame jet lag (grin). So one winner today, and then I'll have the setting contest winners tomorrow. (and I think I'll set a recurring reminder on my calendar so I don't forget again)

Since infodumps and backstory can be tricky to really get, I'm going to mark the tidbits that I felt showed the past well on the finalists. As always, the entries were well done (I'm so proud of you guys).

One thing that made these finalists stand out, was that none of them stop the story to explain anything. The backstory details flow with the scene in a variety of ways. 

And so, the finalists are...

Caylaand Ashley Bleoaja

“It’s either yes or death.”

“I’m not scared of it.”

He stops the dizzying round of circles. With eyes like talons pressed at me, he says, “You’re arrogant.”

“I’m bold.”

Galthen huffs in frustration. It’s hard to hide my grin.

“Alright then. How did he find you?”

“I was climbing the rock walls. We call them Peril.”

His face is like a spotless sheet. Blank, unmoving, and positively clueless.

“Sir, what I do is a crime. Strictly prohibited by laws of insanity. Touching, let alone climbing, these rocks leads to serious punishments, most often whipping in public. But sometimes, you don't get another chance.” This is nicely done dialog as information, because she's answering a question, yet it doesn't feel like it's just information for the reader's benefit.

“Climbing… the walls… is a death sentence?”

He doesn’t get it. He really doesn’t get it. Is he that ignorant? Does he really not know what his men do to us? This suggests that there's some kind of oppression or abuse under authority.

My voice breaks as I say, “The walls keep us villagers imprisoned in our own little hell. Usually, four people disappear from Cratum every month. Most times, we don’t know why. We just pray we're not next.” More history and a sense of the world she lives in

“Lord, she’s a liar,” says Galthen. This suggests the people in charge either don't know, or don't want people to know

“You just prayed you weren’t next,” Allegor repeats.

I shift my weight backwards. “Everyone bet that I was next.” This suggests she was at risk in a bad situation

“I would have, too.”

My eyes burn as I push the words out, “I climbed and nothing happened. Sir, that scared people.” They "eyes burn" is really nice and subtle. I get the sense that she climbed the walls expecting to die or have some kind of punishment, which was a better fate than waiting for them to come take her. Also, people being scared because nothing happened is intriguing. What kind of world is this?

“Because you were titanium? Because nothing could hurt you?”

“Because the regime wasn’t attacking. Maybe they found something worse than the "torture and death" method. Maybe just torture. Endless torture.” This suggests torture is a part of her history.
What I like about this one is how the backstory is inserted without it sounding like dialog as backstory. It doesn't stop the story to explain, the information actually moves the story forward. A nice example of how you can use dialog to convey history without it feeling like an infodump. A girl lives in a village that's being oppressed and tortured, and this has been going on for a while.

Myka Reede
Evonna knelt on the beach with her hands clasped behind her back, not that the soldiers had asked her preference on the matter. Despite shackles biting into her wrists and a trio of swords pointed towards her, she smirked at the captors. Her attitude suggests she's not intimidated, probably because she's been in worse situations. She likely has raining of some type.

“Confess!” a voice behind her commanded. tells she's possibly a criminal

Blast. She’d recognize that sultry accent blindfolded. What was Dorian doing there? However, she refused to panic and chose to lash out instead. “Should kill you too.” This suggests she has a past with this person, and probably not a good one

“Oh, please try, luvie.” This suggests he feels the same way

She gritted her teeth as Dorian yanked down on her ponytail, forcing her to face the sky and the only other Royal Assassin with the stomach to execute without a trial. Now I know she's a Royal Assassin, or was Would he forgo torture and jump straight to the end? His charcoal eyes revealed nothing. Damn. Even after five years, she still couldn’t read him. This suggests she's been out of it for five years.

Dorian traced a knife across her exposed throat and snarled, “Try ‘n spill more innocent blood.”

“Innocent?! Those–“

“–were my men, Evonna. Mine!”

“Don’t care. They murdered her. Defiled her! Cessie was the innocent.” This suggests a past wrong

Images of her baby sister teasing the family pet raced across Evonna’s mind, followed by visions of Cessie’s blood staining the cobblestones. This tells me why, and it's brief enough and flows well so it doesn't feel stuck in. It's natural for her to think this at this moment.

A roar shook her. “What did Traggo tell you? That my men raped and killed your Cessie?”

Evonna squirmed in her backwards arched position, and Dorian leaned over, continuing to slice shallow cuts across her throat. His beard scraped her ear when he whispered, “Didn’t you learn anything from our kill assignments together? Traggo always lies.” I know they worked together, and that there's a bad dude in her past that might be up to no good if he's lying to cause trouble
What I like here is the sense that she had a life before this scene, and that life is still affecting her today. This is a nice example of how another character can trigger memories that feel natural and logical and also convey backstory. She was an assassin who likely quit because of her sister's murder, and she blames her old partner for it.

I dragged Shay to the hallway, out of earshot. “He’s too badly hurt for either of us to handle solo. Can you do a tandem healing?”

“A tandem?” This suggests this is unusual, so the narrator knowing it means they have unusual skills

“We both heal him, with me doing most of the—”

“That’s an Arban technique!” The shock suggests this is bad. And that the narrator is probably Arban, or at least lived there at some point.

I stared into his wide eyes, sensing his shock and…revulsion? What was so bad about my techniques? “It’s a valid healing method.” This suggests she doesn't think it's bad and also suggests she might not be local

“It’s banned! Where did you even learn that?”

“At the Academy.” I couldn’t keep my impatience out of my voice. The dwarf was dying, for pity’s sake. We didn’t have time for an argument. “And it’s banned in the Realm, not Cratia.” I know she's been trained to heal, and odds are the Academy is well-known

Flatly, he said, “You went to the Academy.”

I pressed my fingers to my temple, trying to shut out the pain that spilled through the wall. “Yes, Daric, I went to the Academy!”

“B-But you don’t have a healer’s tattoo--?”

“I left before I graduated.” Before he could ask his next question, I added, “Ran out of money, all right?” He closed his mouth. I could still feel curiosity, doubt, and now a tinge of fear, but we didn’t have more time to waste. “Can you do a tandem or not?” I know the narrator is poor, or was at one time.

“I’ve never tried.”

I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself. “All you need to do is rest your hands on him and reach for his magic, like a direct sense. I’ll do the rest.”

“You learned this at the Academy?”

“Yes.” Invented, learned…same thing, really. I know she's good at this, and she's created things that have been banned.
What I like about this is the sense of authority and competence of the narrator conveyed by how Shay reacts to what's said. The narrator doesn't want to give away information, and more is suggested by what isn't said than by what is. A nice example of how holding back a little can actually make the reader want to know the backstory. The narrator invented something that's been banned in some areas, yet they're clearly a compassionate person. And a poor one who had to abandon school, yet still practices in that field.

And the winner is...


What pushed this over the top for me was how the backstory suggested a lot without saying much. I'm curious about the past and how this character has such a different view on something that Shay feels strongly about. What happened the them? How did they go from a student at a prestigious school to performing banned healing? Hints of backstory that actually make the reader want to read a backstory infodump are ones that are working well.

Rachel6, just contact me at janice (@) janicehardy (dot) com for your critique.

Grats and fantastic job to everyone!


  1. Woot! Thanks, Janice!

    Caylaand's was my favorite entry, though Myka ran a close second!

  2. It was a really hard choice, all three of you were so good. It's been getting harder every week, actually.

  3. Thank you, Janice! And congrats, Rachel6! Your post was strongly written and one of my favorites :)