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My first thriller, Atonement, opens with a serial
killer and his victim . . . letting the reader into his world and mind.
her fingers back . . . all the way back. It cracked loud and final.He shuddered with excitement and
anticipation.She cried for forgiveness,
but he duct tape muddled her words and screams.He hated tears.How useless.
the sharp, long, Bowie knife from the sheath on his belt.A jolt of excitement shot through him. He
preferred using a larger knife on bigger fingers.How could he not enjoy the feel of the heavy
righteous blade in his hand? The worn leather handle fit his palm. It was meant
to be his.Happiness filled him for the
first time in weeks.
he’d take his time.He’d hold back and
savor the moment.
Who is this killer? What reasoning drives him to
cut his victims fingers off? What has happened in his past that would give him fulfillment
from such an act? I won’t answer those
questions in my opening pages. Why not? Because I want to reveal the answers in
Backstory has been described as a set of events
created for a plot, offered as preceding and leading up to that plot. It’s a
literary device of a narrative history all chronologically earlier than the
narrative of primary interest.
I think what they mean is it’s the ‘baggage’ of
our life up to this point.A backstory
shares key elements— that may be depicted and revealed in a novel —affecting
timing, reaction, input, support, and even shock value.
Backstory helps to corroborate the setting as well
as events and makes the reader care about what happens to the characters.
But be careful: Backstory by definition takes the
story backward and when you think about it – then it halts forward action.No matter how careful you are – when that
story screeches to a stop . . . your reader may decide to stop reading.
Too Much, Too Soon-Too much backstory in the opening pages can
be the kiss of death.I always resort to
the comment, “No one waits for the action to begin.”Writing page after page of backstory at the beginning
to set-up the story is not a good idea.I know you’ve read them - you have to force yourself to keep reading –
because you’re convinced the information must be important. I will actually start skimming – waiting for
the story to begin.This is not a good
thing to have happen in your story.
Then there are the books that get off to an
exciting start and just when I’m totally invested . . . the story stops to feed
me backstory.What??I’m frustrated and anxious to find out what
happens…and you’re making me wait???No!
Guess what, there is plenty of time throughout the
book to feed in information the reader needs to know about your
characters.Keep that story moving
forward – make the reader turn those pages.
If you find yourself typing backstory and it seems
to be going slow . . . guess what . . . it feels the same way to your
reader.A good rule is sneak background
in a little at a time without halting the flow of the story.
Timing Is Everything – So how do we sneak that
backstory into the novel?As I
mentioned– it must be weaved, dropped, or told a little at a time that best
serves the story.
One of the best things I was told as a new writer
was, “Remove the first chapter of your book.This is where your book should start.Is it exciting – filled with action and dialog?If the answer is yes, start the book there –
and weave the ‘backstory’ into the story as it evolves.”That was some great writing advice.
As we develop our story – we explore what our
characters are and what they want or are planning on doing.But we need to get to know their past in
order to know what their future holds.That doesn’t mean the reader has to be told this ‘backstory’ all in the
first chapter.And remember – if the
reader doesn’t know everything right away – you have the ability to keep them
guessing - what is making him/her tick?
Ask yourself, what does my reader need to know?Not everything in a person’s life is
important to share with the reader.If
it doesn’t further the story or share something important about the characters
personality – leave it out.
I read in an article once, “In almost all cases,
if it’s backstory, it needs to be cut.”I typed that up and posted it on my office board.It’s a great reminder – don’t get caught up
with information overload.
Wow – I guess that pretty much sums it up.When you think about it - no matter where we
begin our stories, there’s always something that came before. What does the
reader need to know?Hold details back
as long as you can.Give that backstory
a little at a time and you’ll keep your reader in the present . . . turning the pages for more!
Books We Love just released Rita’s fifteenth book,
The world of professional wresting is a volatile,
exciting, and action-packed world and even more so behind the scenes. Keme
(Thunder), a Blackfeet fan favorite wrestler at the top of his game, is found
hanging from the rafters of his training facility.Is it murder . . . or suicide?
For draft writers, you don't have to do these revisions in order
but here's a start. That's looking at your characters to make sure they're
fully developed. Characters are what makes a reader want to continue writing.
Part of a writer's job is to mane the characters appealing whether they be
heroes, heroines or villains. Even those characters who have a small role unless
they're walk-ons need to have something to draw the reader to them.
For me developing a character means becoming the character. This
can sometimes cause people to look at you strangely, especially when you're
walking not in your own shoes but those of the character. What are some of the
points to consider. This will be an overview today and in weeks to come will
look at specifics.
Completeness -- this doesn't mean putting in every event in the
character's life but in giving the reader enough information to make the
character come to life.
Believability -- this means that the character acts in ways that
go along with their personalities and not doing things that seem to be out of character.
Consistency -- there's nothing more disturbing that a character who
constantly shifts from acting one way in a situation and a totally different
way in a similar same situation.
Distinctiveness -- this looks at individuality and at what makes your
character different from the hundred other characters who may be facing a
Function in the story -- what is the character's role and does he
fulfill it or skirt around the edges. This is particularly important for
Stereotype -- unless you really need a cardboard character in the
book making a character look like a cookie-cut one will make the reader yawn.
So during the rewriting phase making characters vivid and real is
Janet Lane Walters' latest release from BWL is Healwoman
Born under a dark moon, Norna has to battle rumors that she is tainted
by evil and unworthy of being anything more than a servant. Discarded by
her mother, she runs away from her aunt, a priestess who wants her to
enter the temple. Instead, Norna chooses to be a Healwoman, and a chance encounter
with a novice hoping to be a priest helps her discover she has talents
of water, air and fire at her disposal. With these gifts she is called
on to battle treachery and attempts to prevent the promised prophecy of
the god and goddess. As she battles evil powers, she loses her heart to
Shandor, the man she met when her journey first began. She must come to
grips with Britha who plots against her. Shandor has his own enemy
Vorgan. When the pair of foes unite, the battles begin.
Lane Walters has been writing and published since the days of the
typewriter. She has 30 plus novels and seven novellas plus four
non-fiction books published. Janet lives in the scenic Hudson River valley with her husband, a psychiatrist who has no desire to cure her obsession with writing.
She is the mother of four and the grandmother of five with two children expected to arrive soon from China. Janet
writes in a number of genres - Romance from sweet to sensual and from
contemporary to fantasy and paranormal. She has published cozy
mysteries and medical suspense. She also has a number of YA fantasies
published. Visit her Blog:
I just finished Juliet's post on Word Building and was impressed. I can identify with her assessment of bad sells, since I worked with International Students coming from third world countries where water is not as plentiful and bathing ranks on the bottom of their "to do" list. I was reminded that the things we take for granted are not as readily available in other places. Of course, I was quick to help them acclimate to a new environment where water and soap are at their disposal. :)
I wanted to acknowledge the importance of touching the reader's senses by letting them visualize, smell, feel, taste, touch the story and your characters. Diane Scott Lewis has been a mentor and critique partner of mine, and thanks to her continual critique notes, "what does it smell like?" I've learned to include that sense in my stories. I'd forgotten how important smell is to identifying with the setting, more so to some than others, but a good author writes to the needs of the masses. Readers want to smell that apple pie baking in the oven...they want to sniff the aroma of wild flowers drifting on the breeze as they bounce across the prairie in a buckboard. If the author does a good job, the reader slips into the character's shoes and feels every jarring bump and catches a whiff of the horses' sweat. How often do you read a description of how the hero smells...like wood smoke and sweat or a spicy aftershave? Other smells are equally as important and I've noted it's usually a sense that is most overlooked in writing.
My very first editor summed it up for me when she said..."you've told a beautiful story, now lets work on 'showing' it to the reader." That's the secret to writing a novel. A story doesn't really connect the reader to action in the story....tells them, rather than puts them in the moment. If you want people to truly enjoy your work, involve their senses and give them a role. It works every time.
are probably as many approaches to novel writing as there are writers. Some
have a tendency to see things as a screenplay—action and dialogue. Others see
characters and relationships first, and find that dialogue and action grow from
that. Some plot carefully and make a comprehensive outline. Others just begin
when a voice begins to speak irresistibly in their mind and their novel grows
begin with the world in which the characters will move. Science Fiction and
fantasy writers often begin this way. Historical novelists may become intrigued
by a particular era, and this fascination leads to the creation of characters
who will exist in a “period” world.
writers probably have the easiest time with what I call “world building,”
because setting/or period, or that “Other Land” plays a large part in the
imaginary kick that got them writing in the first place.There are plenty of examples of science
fiction, fantasy and historical novels which find their inception in the
most writing courses you’ll find discussion of using the five senses of sight,
hearing, touch, taste and smell, and all of them need to be engaged—not all the
time, of course, or nothing else would ever happen—but if your couple are
seated side by side at a Regency dining table—even if they are thinking only of
each other—either loving each other or hating, as the case may be—they will be
surrounded by other people talking, servants coming and going, and a great deal
of food. There will be ambiance a-plenty and the sensations will be coming from
all combined senses.
the last 30 years, people have become more than a little distracted from
reality—not only by television, but by hand held games, cell phones, not to
mention the artificial A/C world we inhabit during hot summers. As a result, we
don’t really spend a lot of time paying much attention to where we actually
are—and what signals are coming from our environment.
you are walking down a street in a 3rd World Country—or on some far off planet,
or London in Shakespeare’s day--there will be unfamiliar smells as well as
unfamiliar sights. For instance, I went to school in the West Indies back in
the 60’s, and rode the bus to the central market daily, and then walked up to
the school through the narrow city streets. There was gray wash water running
in slimy green gutters, the occasional furtive rat; there were fruit rinds and big
greasy mango seeds scattered around as well as bottles.
As well as sight, I experienced unfamiliar
smells too. In the long ago West Indies, there was the smell of people who
didn’t have facilities for washing other than the a central pump in whatever
village they’d come from, of starch filled school uniforms and office clothes
and the beginning of the day’s sweat. There was market refuse, discarded fruit
and animal manure ripening in the sun, the smell of a hard-worked donkey as he
clopped by, the heavy odor of the goats that rode the bus with you. Have you
ever imagined what a werewolf or a vampire would actually smell like?I’m not a fan of these fantasy creatures, so
in my imagination—they’d smell like nothing good!
your character a temp, facing a vacated desk in a modern office? What’s the
desk and keyboard like—are they sticky with coke, covered with ashes? Are they
dusty, or spotlessly clean? How does your character deal with this temporary
workspace? Does she first head for the washroom and paper towels? Does she
bring a can of Lysol with her to work with which she first sprays down everything,
especially the phone?
you can see, this is not only “setting,” it also helps your characters express
themselves. How do they react to the environment in which you’ve placed them? Details
like this breathe life into character.
for sound/hearing, we moderns are drowning in it. The environment has never
been so distracting or noisy—thanks especially to the internal combustion
engine—which roars away on every street and in every yard. Leaf blowers, lawn
mowers, trucks, cars and a Saturday parade of loud pipe HD’s coming through
town are sonic assaults our ears endure daily. My husband calls it “turning
gasoline into noise”. We can’t lift a finger anymore unless it has a motor
attached. We live in a theme park town, and know what it’s like to put up with
amplified concerts all summer, and an enormous volume of traffic. There are
radios and televisions screaming at us in every place we go, from restaurants
to doctor’s waiting rooms.
if you are writing about the past, none of this existed. Cities used to be
noisy with people and animals, and later, with trains and trolleys, but the
countryside remained relatively quiet until the last fifty years. When night
came down on the farm, people went to sleep. Two hundred years ago, a candle
was an expensive item, and only the rich could afford to illuminate their world
after dark. Likewise, music—an orchestra was for the rich, music provided by
gifted individuals who were barely an inch more important than the rest of the
servants. That used to be the draw of a parade—the fact that you’d have a band
playing. Even when I was a kid, people often made music at home. At our house
we had a piano and a song book, and we all sometimes sang and played together
in the evenings for fun.
In the countryside, you’d hear wind in the
trees, or blowing across wheat fields or rustling through a stand of corn.
You’d hear songbirds—and there were more of them 100 years ago--and crickets
and cicadas and wild geese. The first Europeans to arrive here remarked upon
all our wildlife—and especially upon hearing it at night. In their world,
they’d eaten just about everything that moved and cut down most of the trees
and put everything into cultivation, and so the place they came from was
already picked clean of wildlife and therefore relatively quiet. Here, before
they got a foothold, nature was thriving. If your characters are in undeveloped
setting, like a 1600’s American forest, you might hear a panther scream or a
we get to taste. Taste and smell are strongly related, as we all have
experienced losing some of this sense when we have a bad head cold.This sense, which we take for granted, is key
to our well-being. One of my aunts, now deceased, lost her sense of taste
during her eighties. I remember when she was younger, she’d had to be careful
about what she ate, for like so many of us, her thirties and forties were spent
fighting the battle of the bulge. Now, with this vital sense lost, she was less
and less interested in eating, and ended her life weighing 75 pounds.
if we return to that Regency banquet, what do we taste—or are we so excited and
overwhelmed by the presence of handsome young and very eligible Lord Brimstone
Marley seated to our right that we can barely swallow? If we’re on Planet X,
how would you describe the taste of Silonian Sea Slug in Ggarian sauce? Was the
dish carefully prepared, succulent and fragrant, or has it tough, reheated too
many times in the kitchen of a grungy space port diner?
writers imagine the sense of touch frequently; it’s their stock in trade, but
all writers need to reference thist. If you are shopping for clothes, you will
certainly run your fingers over the fabric, see if you like the feel of what
you are about to put next to your skin. If you are handling a gun, besides the
weight, you will be in contact with the material of handle or stock, the cool
touch of metal, the slight oily feeling of bullets as you drop them into the
chamber of a .38, or push them into a recalcitrant .22 clip.
or s/f writers-- you know you’ve got setting work to do which is far beyond the
average writer of a contemporary novel. If you are on a distant planet, your
special world will need an almost total re-imagining, because nothing would be
familiar. This leaves a lot of scope for exercising your imagination, but
you’ve got to be careful to construct an environment that’s inwardly
consistent.If you’ve got a lot of
distinct and unusual plants and animals, and/or geological anomalies, magical
spells, etc. you might want to write a crib sheet for yourself, so that you
don’t become tangled up in the richness of your own creation.
way of attacking the business of creating a setting is what I call the “day in
a life” exercise. That is, from the moment you get up in the morning until your
head hits the pillow at night, spend one day really examining all the little
routines you and/or others have, no matter how mundane — from brushing teeth to
shining shoes, ironing, running errands, shopping, cooking, taking care of pets
or organizing children, commuting to work etc. At work, we all develop routines
which fill out the day in every office, hospital, factory or wherever. It’s
easy to see that these slices of daily life are fodder for a writer of
contemporary stories, but they can also provide a taking-off place.
Day In The Life exercise works directly with contemporary novels of any kind.
People have to have occupations, at least nominally, and this will form a
background to which the reader can quickly relate.
Notice that I call this an “exercise,” because
what you are doing is sharpening your perception for all the little tasks that
are part of life. These details may not go into your story—if you are writing The
Other Boleyn Girl or Shane, they won’t be directly applicable, but they will
show you how much goes on, and all the devices that are used, in an “ordinary”
going to use the example of historical novels, because that’s what I’m most
familiar with. As for Day in a Life--well, what does your character do every
they work for a living?Or are they privileged
lords and ladies? If they are 16th century, do they brush their teeth—and if
so, with what? If a character is a servant in a great house, or an American
Indian, or if they are the very eligible Lord Brimstone-Marley—how exactly do
they spend their days?
a maid permitted to look up from scrubbing the floor when her mistress passes
by? Where does dinner come from?Who serves/prepares
it? What food is available in that particular time period? If your character
goes to the kitchen, what’s it look like? What utensils and tools are there?
Where does the water come from? How often do these characters take a bath and
what is required in order to obtain one?
obvious that you better be well-grounded in the period even before you begin.
If you aren’t—you will have to pause in your writing, do a little research, and
you will instantly find how much easier creating the story becomes.
about the rules of behavior of different genders and social classes, about
medicine and food and even a bit about politics. You really should do that
research—or you won’t have a leg to stand on because even casual readers watch History
&Discovery Channels and are
becoming more sophisticated. For an example of how this has changed, I read a
romance back in the 80’s in which a hero and heroine make love “on top” of an
upright at Stonehenge. This took more suspension of belief than I could
muster—although it had passed by an editor. I don’t think this would pass with many
of today’s readers either.
Fiction and fantasy writers frequently create their worlds from the bottom up.
This gives your imagination—and all your senses free rein. The major pitfall
here is that your newly created world needs to be consistent. If you make a
world like Tolkien’s Middle Earth with a race of people who are 3 feet tall as
well as Elves, Dwarves and men, a backstory is a necessity. Your reader may not
need to know it all, but you, the writer, do need to have all this firmly fixed
in your head, from social hierarchies to the artifacts of material
needless to say, is a lot work and “imagineering.” Tolkien spent a lifetime
creating Middle Earth.Part of the
fascination for the reader of those books is the easy feel of this “other”
dystopian s/f future can be a little easier to create, because you can use
elements of the today’s world, but these too have to adhere to internal rules.
In stories like “The Road” there must be a plausible trigger precipitating the
downfall of life-as-we-know-it. The resulting world order should be based upon
what we already believe about society and/or mankind. Imagine your setting like
a game of Jenga or pick-up-sticks. Writers like Philip K. Dick like to just
remove a keystone of the structure, and then describe the patterns in which the
remaining pieces fall.Look at: Ubik, Clans
of the Alphane Moon, or Blade Runner to see what I mean.
Juliet Waldron's latest BWL release is Roan Rose
More like a gangland war for turf and loot than chivalry,
the War of Roses disrupted the life of the English commoners for
hundreds of years. Roan Rose is the story of one of these, a girl born
on the Yorkshire dales. When the Countess of Warwick, decides to take
sturdy, gentle Rose to Middleham Castle to be companion and bed-time
poppet for her youngest daughter, her fate is changed forever.
Rose bonds strongly with Anne Neville, her young mistress.
She also meets a royal boy enduring his knightly training—Richard of
Gloucester, King Edward’s little brother. The noble children have
illness and accidents as they grow, but Rose remains a constant, always
there to nurse and serve.
bears intimate witness to the passions, betrayals, battles and all the
reversals of fortune which will shape her lady’s life—and her own.
Anne Neville will briefly become a Queen, and Richard, Rose’s secret
love, will become a King, one whose name has become synonymous with
evil. When the King is betrayed and slain at Bosworth Field, Rose
returns to a peasant’s hard life. She has one final service to perform.
…a beautiful story of love and loyalty set during the tumultuous reign of Richard III...
…I loved the strength of this woman…
…Powerful Sense of Time and Place…
…Waldron certainly knows her history…Yet despite its accuracy … Roan Rose is ultimately a book about character.
all who wander are lost.” Juliet Waldron earned a B. A. in English,
but has worked at jobs ranging from artist’s model to brokerage. Twenty
years ago, after raising her children, she dropped out of 9-5 and
began to researching her way into The Past. Three of the resulting
thirteen historical novels are now published. Mozart’s Wife won the 1st Independent e-Book Award. Genesee
won the 2003 Epic Award for Best Historical. She enjoys putting what
she has learned about people, places, and relationships into her
I came across a very interesting article on Forbes.com and decided to share some of the more pertinent info included. I urge you to go and read the remaining text as you may be surprised to which levels some authors will go to promote themselves.
Indeed, many authors will recognize the phenomenon of the malicious one-star review designed to sabotage their books. Although Amazon prohibits "spiteful remarks" it is difficult to get such reviews removed. There's absolutely no doubt that some of these reviews are coming from other authors who see self-publishing as a zero sum game in which if they lose out if another author does well. Other may come from an author's fans to see anyone else's success as a threat to their idol, or from griefers and trolls who just get off on attacking strangers in public. According to Mark Corker from Smashwords: It's a flaw in the system that negativity can become so amplified. You can have a string of four and five star reviews, and then you get a string of one star reviews and it will torpedo your sales because people will see those most recent reviews and it's a warning sign to the potential readers... If there's a reviewer that only leaves on star reviews, or they've left nothing but a single negative review, they're a carpet bomber. Explanation: Carpet-bombers do not leave negative reviews in order to help readers avoid a bad book, they do it to undermine the reader's confidence in positive reviews, damage the book's ranking in Amazon and thus that author's sales. They are like fake positive reviews, designed to game the system, Author Robert Kroese says: The effect of a bad review goes far beyond the impact that it has on the author's ego, however. The prominence of a book on Amazon.com is determined primarily by two factors: how well the book has sold and how positive its reviews are. More highly rated books are displayed more prominently, which leads to more sales. Increased sales lead to even more prominent displays which leads to still more sales. Through the miracle of the positive snowball effect, a few hundred rave reviews can transfer an otherwise unremarkable book into a worldwide bestseller.
Ginger's Comments: As someone who has a whole lot less than a few hundred reviews, I'm deeply concerned that these hit and run reviewers are damaging my credibility as an author. I'm very thankful that we are willing to read and review each other's work to help overcome the stigma. Although there were rumors that author reviews were being removed, I haven't seen any of mine disappear. We can only hope that despite being authors, we are also serious readers with opinions that matter.