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Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Back Story

One of the problems every writer of prose narrative encounters is the question of back story. Who are your characters? Where did they come from and how did they get where they are? Handling that without going on for pages is always a delicate matter.

My new Work-in-Progress, set in Australia, begins with former Englishman James Martin working in a general store and reflecting on how he came to be there. Here is the next short section:

News of a gold strike in the Australian colonies had reached his family when James had been an adventuresome lad of only sixteen years. Work was hard to come by in their small village in Wiltshire County, and he had begged his father to consider what huge stacks of gold nuggets might buy. In a few weeks the gold fever had overtaken even his practical father, who helped James gather the passage money.

James had bid his family farewell and started for the port in Liverpool with a small satchel of personal belongings and just enough hard cash to book passage to Melbourne, in Victoria Colony. He wouldn’t need much more, after all, since gold was practically lying about, just waiting for him to pocket it.

How green he’d been! And how foolish! His only comfort was that a number of other young fools had been taken in just as he had. The foreman called Murdoch was there at the docks when they debarked, looking for the young ones and bragging up the easy digs and rich wages. Neither James nor his several companions who had signed on together had realized they would be working for weekly wages on a rich man’s claim, searched every evening before they left the mine lest they dare to pocket even a smidgeon of the man’s great wealth, and watched over by armed guards at night while they slept in a bug-infested tent village erected along Burra Creek, allegedly to protect them all from robbers and claim jumpers.

Nor had he spent his time picking up nuggets. Ah, no! This had been down-and-dirty hard rock mining with pick, shovel and strong back, and most of what they’d mined in the end had been copper, not gold – a fine enough vein of that, to be certain, though it all belonged to the wealthy man who owned the mining company and James had not so much as a fraction of an ounce to claim for himself.

So whaddya think? If you have comments or questions about James and his background, I'd love to hear them.

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