Don’t Look Back

The back story is important to who a character is and why they are who they are. I like to think carefully about how people behave and how their parents raised them. Just because someone is a good standing citizen doesn’t mean their children inherently are. The same goes for anything. Sometimes the apple stays close to the trunk sometimes it falls off, rolls down a hill, plops into a stream and makes it out to the ocean. In this case, I don’t want to lay out the back story I want to show it, give the reader the reins to imagine what it was within the guidelines I lay out.  A look back without looking back.

Giving characters this sort of history can allow my reader to become more in-tune or sympathize with them. If it’s necessary for a story line I make sure to let the readers know where a character comes from without having to use flashbacks or reminiscent conversation. I sometimes like to give that view in real-time without saying much or anything directly about their past experiences.

It’s been a while since I’ve visited Anne for an example so I thought I’d use her.

Hank paused with his fork halfway to his mouth. “A nurse?”
A look and tone Tony was used to.
“But you’re so handsome.” Tianne pouted at her daughter’s boyfriend. Hanks’ eyes slid quickly to his wife as she continued. “Did you mean you play a nurse on TV or something?”
“Ti, dear it doesn’t take a genius to know that not everyone good-looking is on TV.”
Anne held her breath as her parents went back and forth passively aggressively insulting the other. When Hank finished his drink in one gulp Anne realized he lied and was drinking anyway.
“Dad you promised.” She whispered.
“I’ll do as I damned well please little lady.” Hank’s voice rose and he looked at Tianne. “Deal with your daughter.” He stormed out to refresh his drink without offering anyone else.
Tianne narrowed her eyes at her daughter. “Anne don’t antagonize your father. It’s not his fault your flaunting your lack of morals.”
Tony put his hand over Anne’s under the table as Hank came back in.
“Oh no, not in my house.” He gestured at their hands. “Bad enough you’re like your mother, don’t start that here.”
“Dad!”
“Hank love, we have company. Please watch what you say.”
“Watch your own mouth Ti.” Hank gulped down his second drink.
Tony clenched his jaw as Anne slammed her napkin on her plate and stormed off to find privacy. It was bad of her to leave Tony to them, but she couldn’t stop herself.

Anne chewed her bottom lip fighting back tears and closed her eyes at the soft knock on the bathroom door.
“It’s me, open up.” Tony’s gentle voice came through muffled.  With a sigh, she opened the door and turned her back to him.
“Hey.” Tony turned her around and pulled her into a hug. “So things got a little weird.” He chuckled softly into her hair. “That’s what parents are supposed to do.”
“Yeah, but he promised he wouldn’t drink and she swore she wouldn’t insult me. I just wanted…”
Tony put his hand under her chin and made her look up at him. “Wait till you meet mine. I don’t care what they do or say, Anne. You are nothing like your mother.”
She sucked her breath in at the extreme compliment. She looked like her and had her temper, or lack of, but that’s where it ended.
“I’ll be honest, I was surprised, she looks so young and your dad…”
Anne nodded. “She had me when she was barely sixteen. He’s twice her age and twice as mean.” She sighed heavily and shook her head. They were hard on her but not her because of their own mistake, which happens to be her. “Let’s go get this over with, if they keep it up we’ll leave.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Tony followed her down the stairs to the dining room. The second her mom started in on her he had a flashback to the bar when Neil called her names and she took it. It wasn’t because she wasn’t strong, she was used to it.

Giving insight into a character through others can be fun. It can also be intimidating. This is why I always keep track of family as well as characters, of how they influence or interact. Anne might be friendly and tease one friend but then argue or nit-pick another. It’s a good idea to keep those interactions documented so she can stay steady in her interactions.

I find it’s easiest to use conflicting characters such as parents, a boss, long time friends, or siblings even relatives like an aunt or uncle to help show the history of a character without actually showing it or getting too abstract.

My advice about showing the past in real-time.
It’s worth a try especially if you want to avoid flashback or reminiscent dialogue. I do recommend that you keep track of who is who and how they interact like suggested in my previous post “who’s who in the grand scheme of things”.

-Sheryl

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Spit it out!

A good story will elicit a plethora of emotions from the reader by showing a vivid selection in the story. I enjoy reading a book with juicy little details, the ones that make you smile as your eyes travel across the page taking the words and building a world in side my mind. It’s the little things, the things that many pass over or forget to add. I know I do. These little things are not something I like to see more than once or twice in a story. I don’t personally like when I find them too often or a book is over riddled with them. People don’t generally have every quirk, behavior or habit. They have some, but are generally consistent with what they do have.

While it’s funny to have someone busted for picking their nose or a wedgie when they rarely do or generally never do, once I’ve gone there with that character I don’t usually go back. Unless it’s a well-timed/placed tease later on.
The little things are not what I think of as personality flaws or plot developers, they are just a peek at a character.
Some bad behaviors or bad habits are also actions that can be natural occurrences or results of a situation.
Spitting is one of them. I’ve talked about bodily fluids and functions, spitting is both a bodily fluid and function. It is also an action with many reasons and consequences. I’m not talking about spitting a drink out in surprise or drooling, but the act of expectorating.
Reasons for spitting
Show of disgust/contempt
bad taste in mouth
habit  (I’ve noticed some smokers often spit frequently)
medical condition evolved into habit
something bad in mouth like bug or bad food
Act of aggression
To clean or polish something (yuck)
Hands off assault or insult (spitting in ones face)
It’s “Manly”  (I’m rolling my eyes)
Contaminate food
lubrication
Being silly 
Types of spitting
Precise and functional
Hawk a loogie (This includes the act of snorking snot into the throat, and adding it to the spit)
In someones face
Spray spit
Globular
The cling-on. (Yup it didn’t part ways with the mouth and is now glopping down the chin)
The long shot. (going for distance impressively disgusting)
Examples of how to use it
Amber ducked outside to the back of the building.She took out a cigarette and lit it; careful to stand with her back to the wind. Taking a long drag she closed her eyes as the familiar rush of calm washed over her. 
“That’s a filthy habit.” Scott smiled and held out his hand. “Valery’s biting my head off today.” He inhaled and handed it back.
“I noticed. Where’s your ice princess?”
“She’s not mine and apparently she’s taking some time off. Stress or something lame.”
“What a baby. You can do better.”
Scott laughed as she handed the cigarette back. “What like you?”
Her eyes narrowed and he stopped laughing. 
“Sorry Amber, but you’re not girlfriend material.”
It was Amber’s turn to laugh, she held her side as he snuffed the embers of the cigarette beneath his foot. “And you think you’re boyfriend material? Please. You can’t keep a woman interested for more than three weeks, and you only wanted Little miss frosty tits because she said no and we all bet you couldn’t bag her.”
“It’s her loss.” Scott spat on the sidewalk. 
Amber grimaced staring at the glob sticking and shining in the late morning sun. “You’re disgusting.”
“Says the cannibal who eats her hangnails.”
“I do not!”
Scott laughed as they headed back inside. “You totally do.”
Rachel frowned as Dale entered the lunchroom and started to pack up her lunch.
“Stay Rachel.” His sly smile spread as he sat adjacent to her at the end of the rectangle table. “We should talk.”
She glanced at the other end of the table at the two others and saw Amber and Scott heading toward the door. “I don’t think so.” 
“Hey guys.” Dale waved at Amber and Scott. “Rachel here is above eating lunch with me.”
“Oh are you now?” Amber opened the fridge as Scott sat on the other side of Rachel. 
“No. I have work to do.”
Dale cocked his head to the side and set his finger on her barely eaten sandwich. “Liar liar, pants on fire. Careful there Rachel your tattle tail might get burnt.” 
The five others snickered and tittered behind hands and drinks. Amber lowered her chin and swallowed hard. “Leave me alone, I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Scott picked up one of her carrot sticks. “Is that why Sasha came running to your desk yesterday and why Valery has been chewing everyone out?”
Amber’s brow knit and she glared at Dale. “I don’t know anything about that. Get your hand off my food.”
“Ooh. Someones feeling brave.” Amber crooned the words as Scott ate another carrot stick. “Rumor is you told Valery I put the shrew in Sasha’s desk.” Amber sat across from Rachel and looked at the other two. “We have rules around here, running to the superiors or bosses or the boss’s best friend is super taboo.” The other two nodded in agreement. 
“I never did. I’m sick of you all accusing me.” Rachel stood as Dale peeled back the top of her sandwich. “I slipped up that’s all and that was months ago.” She stared in horror as Dale let a string of saliva fall on her sandwich, he spat the last and laid the bread back over it. Amber and Scott both laughed. The other two fell silent. That was too far.
“I’m sick of this.” Rachel clenched her fists as Dale stood. 
“What are you going to do about it rat?” 
Rachel pulled her arm back and punched his smirking mouth hard enough to knock him on his ass. The laughter from the other end of the room was not reciprocated by Amber or Scott who stared wide-eyed. Rachel was unhurt and that hit looked practiced.
“Bitch that’s assault.” He held his bleeding lip.
“Whatever Dale, I’ve had enough of your constant abuse. Back off, leave me alone. Oh and do try not to be a hypocrite and run to the boss man to tattle that a woman half your size laid you out.” Rachel turned to Scott and Amber as the other two clapped their hands. “The same goes for you two.” Rachel stormed out.
“Ooh she got you Dale.” The man at the end of the table howled with laughter. “At your own dammed game too.”
“Shut up Terrance.” Dale got up and went to get a paper towel.
Spitting is gross(Again I don’t mean spitting out food or drink), there is no way around it. It is however a great method of showing ones character if you want to make them unappealing. There are circumstances when a well-behaved person might spit, and I might even use them if the situation calls for it. For me I will use spitting on the rare occasion and only if I need that character to be disgusting or less likable.I’ve grossed myself out enough for today.
My advice about spitting.
If you can use it and well, then go for it. Otherwise I would skip it. 
-Sheryl
Other gross posts
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Elicit