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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.
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?