Thursday, July 19, 2018

Is Back Story Really That Bad?

by Linda Thorne

Ever since I started writing, I’ve been forewarned about the disastrous side effects of backstory. I know it’s essential to any story line, so I’ve taken the skeptics words to mean use it as little as possible, drop tidbits of the past only into the present, keep it low-key, and, when possible, keep it out.

I can practice the advice in short stories, but in writing my debut novel I had to break a few rules to keep the plot line intact. I remember treading cautiously into this minefield called backstory, keeping the naysayer warnings front and center in my mind.

In my work in progress, avoiding backstory has turned out to be impossible. Totally. The inciting incident occurs thirty years in the past. I tried adding it in pieces, adding it in present-day conversations, but it’s the inciting incident. Too me, it's essential for the reader to be there when it happens thirty years earlier.

So, I started thinking. What about all those books I’ve read and loved that had backstory? If avoiding backstory is the norm, maybe the norm is wrong or doesn’t apply in certain situations.

After All These Years, by Susan Isaacs is a New York Times bestselling novel I read some time ago. I liked the book so much, I went to the library and looked for another written by the same author. I checked out Isaacs’ Lilly White. Where her bestseller, After All These Years, had only the necessary amount of backstory, Lilly White was almost fifty percent backstory. Isaacs presents her story line using one chapter for Lilly White in the past and, in the next chapter, the present. She continues this pattern of shifting from a chapter in backstory back to a chapter in present time until close to the end when the past turns into the present and the climax chapters begin. I loved it and thought this tactic pure genius.


I've read other books with at least one chunk where the reader is taken back to a past time and place.

Two examples come to mind. There’s a fair-sized segment in The Blood in Snowflake Garden, by Alan Lewis that delves into a fictionalized historical event. The Blood in Snowflake Garden is Lewis’s debut novel and one that got him a TV movie option. Another example is Chester Campbell’s recent book, Hellbound. Campbell uses even less backstory then Lewis, but his fast-paced novel stops for a chapter to give the reader  
background on one of the characters. For some reason it didn’t seem to stop the flow of the story. I found the backstory in both these books interesting and necessary.



So, as I move through my work in progress, A Promotion to Die For, I write backstory because the story line will culminate with my character bumping up against circumstances surrounding an event that happened to her thirty years earlier. I don’t need to use half a book of backstory like Susan Isaacs did so well in Lily White, but I will have to dip into the past in several spots including the inciting incident scene that transpires in the very first chapter.

I think those who warn against using too much backstory are often correct, but I think there’s always exceptions to every rule, especially in writing. When I need to use backstory in A Promotion to Die For, I plan for it to appear deliberate because it is. I am doing everything I can to avoid anything that comes across as an info dump. I’m writing backstory that, not only knits its way into the present, but also claws its way there hoping that’s how the reader will see it.

I have it right in my head. I’m just hoping it works in my book.

http://www.lindathorne.com/

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Research Monster, or Down the Rabbit Hole Part Two


by Janis Patterson

My name is Janis Susan and I am a research geek.

Last week on the Ladies of Mystery blog I wrote about the necessity and moral imperative of accurate research in our writing. Once it was finished, though, I realized it told only half the story. Well, I realized it before I was finished, but just how long can you make a blog piece? It's a blog, not a novel!

So, I decided to carry on here and talk about the irresistible seductiveness of research. Currently I am working on a novella where the more research I do, the more I need to do... and even more I want to do. The book is part of a Christmas anthology set in Regency England, and while it has a mystery in it, it's primarily a romance. (Hey, we have to take the contracts as they come, don't we?)

As you probably know, I'm a dedicated pantser. That does not mean I don't have a bare-bones sketch of the book in my head that I might - or might not - follow. It's a starting point. The trouble with this is that while it's okay to think 'the heroine creeps out of the house and goes to a coaching inn where she catches a mail coach north to begin a new life, but ends up hiding from the villain in a church.' Reasonable sketch of proposed action, isn't it?

Ha! First, I need to decide which city she is heading for and how much she can afford to pay for a ticket out of her scanty funds (like all good romance heroines she has little/no money). Then I have to decide which London coaching inn serves that particular route, is there a church nearby and which church is it? For that matter, did the stage coaches run at night? Believe me, most readers of Regency romance/mystery are dedicated enough to know this kind of thing and will eat any writer alive who doesn't get the details right!

Thanks to the blessings of the internet it's not all that difficult to get enough information to be accurate in just a short time. Thanks to the curse of the internet it's far too easy to search on and on, getting just one more bit of information to increase your verisimilitude until you aren't really researching at all, you're just enjoying reading.

Like last night. I had gone as far as I could without more research in one of the climactic scenes building to the big finish, so I kept looking. The Husband asked if I wasn't going to come to the TV, as one of our favorite programs was on. Without even raising my head I said I'd come, I just needed another minute or two. An hour or so later he came back to say it had been a good program, but now it was time for another of our favorites to start. This time I did raise my head, frowned mightily and told him I had told him I just needed a few more minutes. (He's used to me - we do this regularly.) Finally he came back to tell me he was going to bed and was I coming. You've got it. I told him (this time without frowns, as I was too tired to frown) that I'd be along in a few minutes, I just needed one more reference...

I finally got to bed around two, but I did find everything I needed, and it's all extremely real. The London coaching inn is The Swan With Two Necks, the church is St. Lawrence Jewry rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 by Christopher Wren, the destination town is Coventry. I know why the inn has such a strange name, what is remarkable about St. Lawrence Jewry (and how it got that odd appellation) and yes, the coaches did run at night.

All for a small, three page scene, hardly more than a transition from one plot point to another.

However... I firmly believe that all knowledge is useful. Sometime I might write a book where some of this extraneous information is crucial. I might not remember it by that time, but I will probably remember that it exists, and have a vague idea of where to find it. Then I will have the sublime pleasure of going back down the rabbit hole one more time, probably finding more fascinating facts that I missed this last time. It's inevitable.

Help.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

New Days for Me by Marilyn Meredith

I'm switching to posting on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays--and this is my first for this day.

Tomorrow hubby, daughter and I are headed off to Las Vegas--and no, not for the usual, no gambling or shows. This is the week for the Public Safety Writers Association's annual conference--and my favorite.

I'll be busy there as I'm one of the instructors for the pre-conference writing workshop and will be talking about writing descriptions of people and places. I'm also a moderator for a panel on and on one about point of view.

Both my hubby and my daughter work in the bookstore--and since it's at the back of the room where the conference is held they get to enjoy the speakers and the panels.

One presentation I'm really looking forward to is an inside view of the massacre at the concert in Vegas last year. A fireman who was at the conference and worked to save lives is one of the speakers. The other is a retired police officer who organized a place for all those working the crime scene to come for free food and drink People don't realize that where the concert was held was a crime scene and it took days for it to be completely investigated.

Another bit of news is some of my older Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries have been re-edited and will have new covers. The first in the series, Deadly Trail, has the first new cover.


The idea is to make them look more like those later in the series. This book was first published by a wonderful publisher who is no longer in business. Though the cover was nice it didn't fit with the new ones.

I'll see you again on the 4th Tuesday and share a bit about the conference.

Marilyn

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Keeping your Promise to your Reader


Make Mine Mystery
Linda Lee Kane
July 2018

 
What is Suspense?

Suspense arises from our reader's anticipation of what’s about to occur. They worry, even fear, what will happen to the characters they love. So always leave the reader hanging at the end of each chapter. Leave them wanting more.
To build suspense, we need to raise our reader's concern over how our POV characters’ plans can go array. Ever hear this comment when talking books with a friend? Nothing really happened, so I stopped reading. I’ve put down numerous books for the same reason, and some by authors who are household names, authors who should know better. But that’s the thing about suspense. It’s not easy to hold our reader's hostage for 300 pages. By employing the following techniques, we have a better shot of grabbing them by the throat. Then it’s just a matter of not letting go.
 “Show that something terrible is about to happen, then postpone the resolution to sustain the suspense.” ~ Writer’s Digest
 Promises, Promises
Every book makes a pledge to the reader. The difference between concept and premise is, something happens to the main POV characters that disrupts their lives. If you’re not familiar with the difference between concept and premise, there’s no one better to learn from than Larry Brooks. He has several posts on the subject.
Rather than asking yourself, “What should happen next?” Try: “What can I promise that’ll go wrong? Problems that will bring my characters to their knees.”
The central dramatic story question promises an intriguing quest.
By making promise after promise, we keep our readers engaged. Don’t tell the reader, of course. Instead, hint at the trouble to come; tease the reader into finding out. Do it right away, too. We need to establish our CDSQ on the first page. If we can accomplish it in the first paragraph, great.
Every promise, no matter how minor, should either set up or pay off a future scene. Once a promise is paid, make another. The most considerable promises, like the central dramatic story question, should be paid off in the climax.
For an example of a CDSQ,  look at Wings of Mayhem.
After unknowingly stealing his trophy box, can Shawnee Daniels a forensic police hacker by day; cat burglar by night, stop the serial killer who's destroying her life before he murders everyone she loves?
If your story drags, it’s often due to the lack of tension and/or suspense. In other words, you haven’t made your reader worry enough. How can we fix a dragging plot? By making more significant, more critical, promises. Promises that will devastate our hero and secondary characters. Promises they might never recover from.



Monday, July 2, 2018

Book Biz and Fun



When you can combine something to do with your book promotion and a fun trip, it's a great plus for a writer.

This past weekend, with daughter driving, we headed over to Cambria-- a beautiful village on the Central California coast. It had been a long, long time since I'd been there, and though they do not have any fast food chains, or even grocery chains, they have lots and lots of interesting shops and restaurants.

We'd come over for an author event, but it wasn't scheduled until Saturday so we had all day to explore--and explore we did. We toured the cliffs with their most interesting homes over the rocky shores. We spotted seals and otters playing in the surf.

As we drove around, daughter spotted a garage sale sign, and off we went. This time into a whole different environment, looked like the mountains, winding roads, lots of trees, huge homes, and deer. We even saw a fawn. The garage sale was in the huge driveway of an elegant home. The most organized and neat garage sale I'd ever seen. Daughter found many treasures and negotiated about more. (That evening, the homeowner called and she said if daughter returned, she could have something for a cheap price--and on Sunday another call, and the woman gave daughter a whole bag of stuffed animals. Daughter has lots of family to give to, plus she gives Christmas gifts to church kids who don't have much.)

Friday evening, we met an old friend of mine, Rebecca Buckley, I haven't seen for years, at a restaurant where we had a wonderful dinner, but even better a lot of chatter. She's a romance writer and attended the event I went to the next day also.

Before the event we poked around Cambria a bit more. The set-up for the author event was 11, but didn't start until 1. As with so many of these events, I met tons of wonderful people, and got to see author friends and met others.

Me, Lida Sideris, Sue McGinty

That evening we had a tour of Rebecca Buckley's home, the theater she owns, the restaurant in front, Harmony Cafe, and that's where we ate dinner--wonderful and topped in off with delicious gelato.

The next morning, we did even more sight seeing before heading home and back to reality.

Marilyn