Backstory is a tough thing for a writer to deal with. Ideally, we know everything about a character’s background. We know his secret obsessions, the details of her first heartbreak, his grade-school enemy, her favourite book. All of this affects the character in tiny ways, and our knowledge helps make him or her more real on the page.
The thing is, not all of this stuff should actually be on the page. Maybe that time she fell up the stairs in junior high was embarrassing and made her a little more shy than she was before, but it’s not relevant to the werewolves she’s killing at age twenty-five. Telling readers about it would slow the story down, and that’s generally the last thing we want to do if we can avoid it.
The question we often have to ask when editing these things out is: Is this relevant, or merely somewhat interesting? Does knowing this affect the reader’s enjoyment of and immersion in the story? And is that for better, or for worse?
Nox is a character whose backstory has suffered more than its share of cuts. It’s interesting stuff. Some of it was (I think) nicely written. But the fact is that sometimes taking a break to share that backstory puts the brakes on things when we really don’t want to. Going from an action sequence and a big revelation to musings on one’s childhood can be…
Sorry. And in two cases, I’ve cut information about Nox’s past that wasn’t vital to understanding the story or her character. It’s been hard to do. I love Nox, and I know some of you want to know more about her.
So here you go. A little information on her early years, dedicated to the person who recently called Nox “my book girlfriend,” and also to the person who named her kitten “Nox.”
[The following information was cut from Sworn in the interests of relevance and pacing]
Nox (named Avalon by her parents) was born, coincidentally enough, on the same day as her twin brother Aren.
Her birth was never officially recorded, and as far as most people know, only one child was born that day. There were a few reasons for this, but one was superstitions regarding twins. It’s widely believed that twins with magic will have the power of one person divided between them, and will be perceived as weak because of it. Most thinking people don’t truly believe this, but it’s a superstition that’s been around long enough that it does affect people’s biases.
In any case, it was decided that only one birth would be recorded. Since Aren was more likely to find a significant place in the royal family, his birth was acknowledged. As a male he was more likely to possess magic, and even at birth he showed potential. Avalon showed none. In fact, for as long as they both lived in the palace it seemed that if their power was divided, Aren had claimed all of it.
Now, this doesn’t mean there was great fanfare and a country-wide celebration. Life in the royal family is very much a “survival of the fittest” situation, and making things too public does make a mess of things if a king wants to cover up disasters. Still, people who lived and worked in the palace knew about Aren, and his mother’s servants guarded him from danger when she no longer could.
Little Avalon was less fortunate.
For her own safety, only a few people ever knew who she was. There was her mother, of course, who loved both of her children equally regardless of magic. She had no magic herself, remember, and if anything she felt more protective of her daughter, who would never be able to defend herself in this cutthroat family. Ulric knew, but he had so little to do with his children at that age as to make his involvement irrelevant.
And then there was the wet nurse.
Well… she wasn’t, really. She was a trustworthy and well-paid young woman who was brought in from another province. Someone with no connections in Luid, and few back at home. No one thought twice about the fact that the king’s last wife chose to have another woman feed the new prince, and if it seemed unusual that the nurse and her new daughter lived so closely with Magdalena and her baby boy, well, people from Belleisle are strange anyway.
Of course, the wet nurse had no baby, though everyone thought that Avalon was hers. In fact, that wet nurse spent her days assisting with the babies and keeping their mother company, but their mother fed them both. No one outside of those rooms had reason to question the situation. Even when the wet nurse stayed on as nanny, it seemed only somewhat unusual. Avalon lived with her, but saw plenty of her mother, and was sometimes allowed to play with her brother (though they never got along well).
And then, of course, came disaster.
[Torn spoilers ahead]
Ulric was forced to send Magdalena away, to let everyone believe she was dead. She took Avalon with her, knowing that there was no place for a girl with no magic in Luid. She changed her daughter’s name to Nox, a hard and cold name that she hoped would help her daughter become what she needed to be to survive in an equally cold and hard land. They never spoke of the city or the palace again–not until Nox was old enough to understand that she should never try to claim her place as a princess of Tyrea.
Here are the paragraphs that I cut from Torn, again in the interest of preserving story momentum. I still like these words, and I hope you enjoy them.
(These were Nox’s first words after meeting Aren, Kel, and Cassia)
I’ve never liked surprises.
I don’t remember much about my first home or my first family. I remember leaving, though, being scooped out of my bed, wakened from sleep and taken from my warm bedroom out into the cold night with a blanket wrapped around me. My mother held me in her lap as we rode in the back of a wagon. I remember the smell of hay, and horses, and the driver’s pipe. My mother cried every day of our journey, and I thought she’d never stop.
That was the first surprise I remember, and I haven’t had many pleasant ones since.
My rescuers were a surprise I wasn’t sure about. I’d resigned myself to going to Luid, accepting that fate was leading me there to kill my oldest half-brother. I knew little about that family aside from rumor and reputation, but I felt confident that I would find a way to do it. The hatred that had grown in me since I had learned my true identity and the reason for my mother’s banishment would finally bear fruit.
But then this group of strangers had appeared, and now I found myself leading them down the road, away from my old life. Moving forward.
How will Nox move her life forward after everything that’s changed?
We’ll find out soon enough.