Today’s #storycraft chat on Twitter was about backstory, and how to incorporate it in a way that doesn’t leave your reader yawning, or worse. So this week’s @storycraft challenge is to post 300-500 words of your best exposition. I’ve pulled an example from my newly completed novel as an answer to the challenge:
Note to avoid confusion: Both members of the couple in this excerpt are men.
I was rocking my infant son one night when I first thought of my father.
I can’t say exactly why. I was half asleep. Thomas was a terrible sleeper. We spent many nights those first few weeks taking shifts in the rocking chair. It was a quiet, comfortable time that I, if not enjoyed, at least appreciated for what it was; a brief slice of my son’s life where he was entirely dependent on me and I could give him everything he needed or wanted.
It was a jarring break from the soft, hazy moments cuddling a sleeping infant to thoughts of my father. I rarely allowed myself to think of him. To do so now, in a peaceful moment with my son, so exactly opposite anything that had ever existed with my father, was even more upsetting. I studied Tad’s face, trying to banish the images of my father.
But instead of my son’s innocent face, I saw only scenes of the horror that had been my father.
His face looming over me in the last memory I had of him. So many times him bearing down on my mother, fist raised, and me, helpless to stop him. All the other times when I chose not to stop him because I was nursing my own bruises and too afraid to volunteer for more. The self-loathing that accompanied those particular memories.
Blurred images of fists or belts or things I couldn’t even identify hurtling toward me and the explosion of pain that followed. Carrie crying quietly in the corner, never loud enough to attract his attention, just as I’d taught her. Fear that tasted like blood and smelled like alcohol and piss.
Scenes of lesser horror; him passed out in the chair or on the floor. The ever-present fear of him waking. The perverse fear of him never waking again.
I tried to think of something, anything that would make me rid of him again.
I had only a hazy concept of my father’s death. I’d known he was dead as soon as he’d been taken away. If not dead yet, then soon. During the years I might have wanted a confirmation I didn’t have access to that information.
But now I gestured to the servant and sent him for my father’s file.
Pete came to find me a half-hour later.
“Are you all right?”
I must have looked as poleaxed as I felt.
“My father’s alive. My father’s alive and lives in Imperial City.”
Pete’s face softened. “Yes, I know.”
“I’ve known for years. You married the Emperor, Jake. Twelve hours after I proposed I had a file on my desk of everything you’d ever said, done, thought, and what color your underwear is. But I knew that already.” He grinned.
I ignored the joke. “You’ve known that my father was alive, and not thirty miles away, for years and you never thought to tell me?”