ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

#InsecureWritersSupportGroup entry for e-book - Tips on writing BACKSTORY

Hi everyone!

It's Wednesday, October 1, IWSG post day.

It’s also the website’s one year anniversary and the day to post your entry for the IWSG anthology. If over 300 words, you can email it directly to Alex or to theIWSG@gmail.com. 

Once you have posted on October 1, go to this page at the IWSG site and enter your link - http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-guide-to-publishing-and-beyond.html  We will be reading every post, but we don’t want to miss someone’s submission!

This is my entry for the IWSG e-book which seeks articles on Writing, Publishing and Marketing. I give my consent for it to be included in the e-book. It is slightly over 300 words.

My topic is Writing.

BACKSTORY - Write Winners, not Skimmers.

Firstly, what is BACKSTORY? BACKSTORY is the history that happened before Chapter One.

What I've learnt about BACKSTORY:

  1. BACKSTORY should not appear until our readers get to know our characters -- some say Chapter Four.
  2. BACKSTORY is the story that the author tells herself. She needs to know where her hero/heroine comes from, the deepest, darkest secrets from his/her past. So make up a file, or write it into your story then move it to a separate file. 
  3. The reader doesn't need to know everything we know about our characters. But how can you share fully-formed characters without being boring? Solution. Dribble hits of BACKSTORY through dialogue (but don't info dump). Creatively include bits and pieces from your hero/heroine's past. 
  4. Write what readers will read. Too many slow sentences or paragraphs of BACKSTORY and the reader will skim, hoping the story picks up. Readers rarely skim dialogue. Don't waste time crafting clever paragraphs readers won't read.
  5. BACKSTORY is not a bad thing. Relevant BACKSTORY needs to be slipped into your WIP in an active way at the right juncture. Keep the story rolling. Keep the reader engaged. 
So...what to do? I learned this trick from Mark Sullivan, thriller writer.

1. Write the BACKSTORY. 

2. Make a BACKSTORY file. For your eyes only. Try to keep it to one or two succinct pages.

3. REVIEW those pages. Highlight what you really must include in your story. Will it move your story forward?

4. Check your highlighted BACKSTORY. Can you eliminate anything? 

5. Put the reader-can't-live-without BACKSTORY into bullet points on a new page.

6. PRINT.

7. Then...imagine these bullet points were printed on a sheet of glass.

8. Picture yourself dropping that sheet of glass onto the floor and watching it shatter. Kapow!

9. Picture this: Bend down and pick up one sliver of BACKSTORY at a time, then slide those slivers into your story.

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SHORT BIO: Denise Covey is a writer of romantic fiction - flash fiction, short stories,  novels. She blogs at http://laussieswritingblog.blogspot.com

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Thanks to the co-hosts for October 1:

Go here for other entries.
  • What's your take on BACKSTORY? Anything to add?



57 comments:

  1. You're a day ahead of me here in good old California. However, that's perfect because you reminded me have a post to do tomorrow. Thanks for being my calendar alert.

    Glad you posted your article for the Guide.

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    1. I'll be looking out for yours, clem.

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  2. Fab article, Denise. It will be perfect for our book!

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    1. Great. Hope you don't get dozens of articles on the same topic! In that case, you'll have to choose!

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  3. Great tips indeed and yeah backstory sure really should wait a while before you turn its dial.

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  4. Imagine wife handing you a broom to clean up the remains of your backstory...
    Just kidding! That was awesome, Denise. Such a clear way to describe the process we should use.
    Thanks for contributing to the IWSG book!

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    1. Just as well I was speaking metaphorically Alex. I could see glass shattering everywhere. I think I'd have more than a page!

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  5. I think you should always have more backstory than you reveal to the reader. That's an interesting technique you describe. I generally write backstory just to orient myself at first, and then draw from it sparingly when I need to during the course of the story proper.

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    1. Yes, I always delete most of my backstory, but it helps me move my story along in the beginning.

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  6. That was an awesome visual way to sum the process. Does short fiction need backstory? The writer always needs it, the trick I guess is to know when and how and how much the reader does.

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    1. I'll never forget the glass image. Short fiction needs a little backstory I'd say, certainly not a lot. Choosing what the reader needs to know is an art. Most of us tell too much.

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  7. I was having trouble with backstory in a manuscript that I took for critique with a well-known writer, D. Gabaldon. She advised me to put part of it in a Prologue, and part to be integrated, as you say, into the storyline. I had to adjust four chapters, for the better. Nice image of shattering glass, too. . .

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    1. Hi D.G. The Prologue is a luxury most editors don't welcome these days, so there goes one option for most of us. You're blessed to have D. Gabaldon critiquing your work. When you get to her level you make your own rules.

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  8. I think my entire first novel was backstory, lol. But, it had to be written to get to the meat of the sellable story. I'm hoping that if the trilogy ever gets published, that "back story" will be an interesting pre-quel.

    One can only dream, yeah?

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    1. Backstory is crucial, but knowing when to use it is crucial too. We can all dream...

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  9. Hi Denise - a great work through on back-story .. I like the slivers of glass - well I'd rather they weren't sharp - perhaps Matisse's artwork with words on ... but slipping tidbits in to highlight the character and that particular setting ... oh to be in D. Gabaldon's shoes ... cheers Hilary

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  10. Great tips on backstory. It's something I really struggle with too. Thanks.

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  11. These are some fantastic tips! I find introducing backstory when it becomes relevant hopefully stops readers skimming, but it's tricky to balance!

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    1. Just knowing when it becomes relevant can be tricky!

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  12. Backstory should be like a strong spice - sprinkled with care so as not to ruin the whole thing.

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  13. Good reminders. I wrote so much backstory in my notes for my last novel it became an entire novel on its own, the prequel. :)

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    1. You're the second person to say that!

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  14. Excellent tips, Denise. Love the word "dribble" in relation to backstory.

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  15. Denise, that's excellent advice. I've always been a fan of engage first, inform later. You know you've read a truly brilliant author when the story takes right off, but you get the snippets of who a person is as you go.

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  16. I like the bullet points idea. I always write the back story and underlying psychology of characters but the challenge is to 'dribble.' Very helpful post.

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  17. This is great advice on writing back story, thanks for sharing :)

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  18. Backstory is hard to get right. I recently had to re-insert some of the backstory for the first book in my unpublished supernatural-thriller series. I love your bullet points!

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  19. EXCELLENT points here, Denise.... It is so hard to include backstory without INFODUMPING...

    Great idea writing backstory first, then smash it into pieces and slip in the slivers when needed.

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  20. I find myself making backstory files all the time. It really helps!

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  21. Good article, Denise and you did it in only a few works. This will be helpful to all who read it.

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    1. I could have used a lot more, ha ha.

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  22. Wow, this is some helpful info! I've been struggling with this very issue while working on my book and this is a great way to illustrate what works.

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  23. Great advice, Denise. Because my stories tend to focus on character psychology, backstory inevitably plays a key role. I'm constantly struggling to deliver the backstory in a way that doesn't interrupt the forward movement of the story. The broken glass analogy is perfect!

    VR Barkowski

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    1. Yes, I loved it when I first came across it.

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  24. Hi Denise, what a great article, I love the shattered glass imagery, I hope that's one that'll stick with me to use

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  25. Hi Denise
    So right you are. If handled correctly back story can supply tension and suspense.

    Taking your advice. Romancing wisteria is now free.
    Nancy

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    1. I think that's best Nancy if your goal is to get known.

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  26. What a very insightful and helpful post. I have questions about backstory for a while, but you outlined in such a way to make a more simple approach instead of some complicated answer. Thank you.
    Juneta at Writer's Gambit

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  27. Very interesting visual for backstory! I like it.

    I got caught up in backstory for a minor character once. I wanted to write just a quick piece on how he became a guardian and what his issues were that drove him to that point. I just wanted a couple of paragraphs. It turned into a 16K novella. Whoops. None of that made it into the actual novel, but his behavior pops up (such as his fear of snakes).

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  28. I write so much backstory, and then delete if from the book, that I have to remember to put some back so the reading will know what I'm talking about. This is why my Beta readers are my best friends.

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    1. We certainly need others to pick it up.

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  29. Hi Denise,

    We do need to write backstory for ourselves. Just for us to know then drip feed it throughout the story later after deleting it!

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  30. Great post, Denise! I'm the queen of info dump at the beginning!

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