Saturday, October 19, 2013

Create a Backstory into your Novel by Rita Karnopp

My first thriller, Atonement, opens with a serial killer and his victim . . . letting the reader into his world and mind.

     He bent 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.
     He slid 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.
     Now 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 the backstory.

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, Thunder

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?

Atonement is FREE at Amazon through Oct. 22!

Find Rita at:
LinkedIn: rita karnopp
Contact her at:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Characters and Revision by Janet Lane Walters

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 similar story.

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 secondary characters.

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 important.


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.

Previously published as Dark Moon Healwoman


Janet 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: 


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Senses, Showing and Smelling by Ginger Simpson

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 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.

Monday, October 14, 2013

World Building by Juliet Waldron

There 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 organically.

Others 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.

These 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 author’s vision.

In 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.

In 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.

If 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!

Is 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?

As 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.

As 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.   

Conversely, 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 wolf howl.

Finally, 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.

So, 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? 

Romance 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.

Fantasy 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.

Another 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.

This 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” day.

I’m 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 day?

Do 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?

Is 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?

It’s 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.

Learn 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.

Science 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 culture.  

This, 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” reality.

A 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.

Rose 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.

“Not 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 stories. 

Visit her website:

Her blog:


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reputations and Bad Apples

I came across a very interesting article on  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 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.

Titillating preview by J.C. Kavanagh

WINNER Best Young Adult Book 2016, The Twisted Climb I've been prepping for Autumn book signings and excited to meet new and...