In the HOW category of our Storytelling Elements, we're looking at the causes, motivations, and situations that lead to the things we want to see in our stories.
This one might seem a little bland or even completely obvious to you, and you can be correct. You can also be 60% wrong. Let's dig in.
Context, beyond simply "this is a magical world, my character can summon fireballs," is a broad spectrum of things. For our purposes, we'll look at Context as the historical circumstances and situations that result in the "now" our characters are in at the time of the story.
When we're first introduced to Luke Skywalker, Jedi are pretty much extinct.
The Context to that situation is that no one listened to Yoda when he told everyone it was a super bad idea to train this kid, guys. Srsly.
Here's another one:
In the beginning of The Dark Crystal, we're told that Jen is the only one of his kind, and he's never met another gelfling.
The Context for that is revealed when they find this stone relief, describing how the skekses basically pulled a Fantasy Nazi move and more or less wiped them out because gelfling essence is like the elixir of youth.
I know there are examples that don't include genocide, but these are the ones that came to mind. Whether the Context comes first (like with the setup to Cinderella - dad is dead and stepmother hates her) or Context comes after to fill in the blanks (as with Willy Wonka, who didn't explain why he was being so crazy with all these kids around until after Charlie won the contest he didn't even know he was in) is completely up to the creator. It can work either way, but there are some pitfalls to this.
The most obvious one is that sometimes you can get so caught up in the Context that you forget to tell the story you actually set out to. I've done this; I set out to tell the story about an unwanted political marriage between elves and faerie (who don't usually get along very well) and ended up getting completely sidetracked by the origin story for one of that world's many gods. Whoops.
Cool story, though.
Another possible gopher hole with Context, where you might turn your creative ankle and end up hobbling for the rest of your story, is its absence. Now, hear me out.
Let's say you have a Hero and a Villain. Your Villain has a personal grudge against your Hero. But you never explain why.
That's what we call a Plot Hole or an Invitation to Fans to Fill In their Own Headcanon, both of which can be dangerous, though for different reasons. A Plot Hole can either trip you up later on in your writing or, if never addressed, can jolt your audience out of their suspension of disbelief.
As with so many other things, it's important to have Context, but also important not to put too much emphasis on it.
Advice: Develop your Context so you can reference it, but don't copy/paste the whole thing into your story.
That's all for now. See you next time! Don't forget that those links in the article above are Affiliate links to Amazon, so anything you buy through those links will help me raise a little money and keep doing this a little longer! (The more I make with my blog, the longer I can keep paying to maintain my website.)
Until next time, Inklings, stay awesome, and happy December!