Tuesday, April 7

The Backstory Dilemma



I intended to tell you about how hard it is to fit in what I know about my characters without info dumping all over the page. Whining was imminent because I am stuck, stuck, stuck as I begin writing the newest and final book in the Women of Willow Bay series. I already want to tell my readers way too much. I’m sure I’ll end up cutting the first three chapters because I always do, all the while wondering how in holy hell I’m going to have a story when I’m done. Yes, yes, yes—I know—only last month, I was in celebration mode because I released The Summer of Second Chances, so whining seems rather selfish at this point. But that one’s done. It’s out with the readers, and now I have to get to work on this one. And you know, the more I write, the more I realize that Papa Hemingway was right...

You might think that after four books, three of which went through the story-editing genius of Lani Diane Rich at StoryWonk, I’d be able to sit down and write one that doesn’t begin with too freaking much backstory, but maybe this is just my process. I am a great writer, but I am the queen of TMI. And Lani always tells me to sit down and write the story—just do it. The editing, the trimming, the slashing—that’s all going to happen in revisions. Get the story out and worry about what stays and what goes later.

When I sent my first manuscript to Lani, my very favorite book doctor, for a critique and advice. she took it apart with unbearable honesty (for which I am eternally greateful). Kindly, but frankly, she told me, too much back story—cut, cut, cut. And God bless her, she even apologized because she was telling me to cut some terrific stuff. But it had to be done. And she’s told me the same thing on every book she’s done for me since, so apparently, I’m a serial info dumper. Sheesh…

Well, as I said, I’d intended to talk about how to get rid of the backstory and stay in the here and now. But then, I remembered that there is a great StoryWonk podcast on that very topic. If you’re a writer and haven’t discovered StoryWonk yet, you should. So instead of writing about how to fix the backstory dilemma, I’m sending you to Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens.

Listen and learn. Oh, and have fun because these two are delightful!

14 comments:

  1. I think there needs to be a new sub-genre called "back story" that could be published in conjunction with each new book. I LOVE back story! :-)

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    1. I think that's a dandy idea, Liz! I have a graveyard file filled with backstory that I'd love to contribute! Bises, baby!

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  2. back story is my nemesis...there are so many *things* that I think readers need to know about my characters!!! Like you, I usually cut out a good part of every.single.beginning, and like you I'm always amazed at what my editor sees that I don't. Thank God for great editors!!

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  3. Maybe you need to add a back story and deleted scenes section to your web site as a companion to your books. Many of the series on some of the cable channels have that available to viewers. I have also seen some authors do that (J. R. Ward for one). There is something very special when, as a reader, I find out more about my favorite characters.

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    1. Funny you should say that, Carolyn. I had a dreaded epilogue on my first WOWB book--Once More From the Top, that my editor slashed right out. So I put it up on my website. You can click to it from the WOWB page. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback about having it there. Fun! Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Somewhere along the line at one IRWA meeting or another, a fellow spoke to the group and said that one must write a life history of each character before ever starting to write the book. Perhaps that mini bio is what your first three chapters are.

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    1. You're probably right about that, Cheryl. Maybe I need to start there instead of with chapter 1? Hugs!

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  5. Great post, Nan. Maybe we need a support group for "serial info dumpers"!

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    1. A support group sounds great, Terry--can we meet at Starbucks every month? Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. Great post, Nan. Maybe we need a support group for "serial info dumpers"!

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  7. I actually have the opposite problem. My first drafts are usually too lean--especially when it comes to setting and backstory. Dialogue and action, I have plenty. Just don't ask me to get into their heads, lol.

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