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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Uh-Oh! There's a Problem!

How did this woman's heel break? I don't know. Do I care? Well, I might later, but I don't right now. I'm more concerned with where she's going and how she's going to fix it before she gets there. The rest would be unwanted back story at this point. I'm reading a popular novel right now (I won't mention the name or author) in which the entire first chapter is back story. I'm sorry, but I got bored and almost tossed the book to the side. I persevered, and as it turns out, it's a great book. Had it been written by an unknown, would I have kept reading? I doubt it. My tip for this Tuesday is to eliminate all back story from the first half of your manuscript. If you can't do that, at least eliminate it from the first third. I personally was hesitant about this with my own manuscript, but I finally did it, and guess what... it reads so much better. Some of what I thought was important information turned out to be not so crucial for the reader, and the stuff that was, well, my readers could have figured it out without me telling them. It's one of those pesky little rules, but I get the point. And, unless you are already published, don't risk it. So, read any books with too much back story lately? Written any? Go back and check. You'll be glad you did. Where do you suppose that woman was off to anyway?

20 comments:

Melanie's Randomness said...

Taking the first steps into my novel was the hardest thing ever because I kinda just threw people into this world of zombies & caution & a world that was a ghost of what it should have been & my writer's group was like "So what's the backstory?". I struggled with adding some sentences in to give them a lil clue but when I took them all out & saved it til later it worked out so much better. I left subtle hints of the backstory but kept it forward in the present. It worked so much better! =)

It is boring to just read back story. I'm reading "The girl with the dragon tattoo" & I'm about 150 pags into it & FINALLY I'm at the real story. The first half is backstory. If I didn't know how good the rest of the story was I would have stopped long ago. Ah I'm writing a book here. Have a good day!!

Diane said...

A book signing for her latest release.... now she has an idea for a future story line..... I'm seeing a great romantic comedy coming out of this one. :O)

Faith said...

As I edit my First Novel Ever, I'm realizing that I put a heckuva lot more backstory into that first novel than I do in things written recently (or even in my second novel). Must be an awareness of backstory that made the difference. Still, it can be so tempting to put it in...

I've read a few novels lately with too much backstory at the beginning, and not enough explanation of the surrounding world. That can get really frustrating and confusing. It also makes me wonder why the editor didn't catch it and get rid of it?

Carolyn V. said...

I hate info dumps! I've had to put a few books down because of them.

lotusgirl said...

I've heard that before. Great advice.

Dara said...

My very first draft of my current WiP had LOTS of back story--the first two or three chapters. I cut it all out and started right where the MC's life changes. Definitely reads much better; my crit group told me it read faster and they were more interested. You have to learn how to seamlessly interweave backstory elements into the action, which is difficult but necessary, at least IMHO.

Tere Kirkland said...

I have about five pages of introduction, some of which is backstory, before my WiP's plot takes off. Maybe that's too much, but it's working for me so far.

When I first wrote Evangeline I had about three long chapters of backstory. Now my opening is active, and relays some backstory in a natural manner.

It's all about figuring out what info you absolutely have to get across to the reader and creating an active scene to relay that. Easier said than done, right? ;)

Sarah Simas said...

I can recall several of my fav romance novels where the author's style was to front-load the book with back story. Of course, this author's hayday was in the 80-90's. LOL

I just finished the second release of an author that debuted this year. Her publisher is one of the Holy Grail houses and I was stunned to see how many blatant mistakes there were in the book! From tracking to additional words left in the sent. LOL I couldn't tell ya if there was too much back story because my eyes were too drawn to all the mistakes! The OCD part of my brain wants to reread the book just to count how many. ;)

If I had to guess where the lady was off to in such a hurry she broke her heel, I would say the sweet shop! I'm always in a hurry to feast on a sweet treat.

Toyin O. said...

Thanks for the tips.

http://youcanfacetodaybecausehelives.blogspot.com/

Stephanie Thornton said...

Heck yeah! I'm reading historical fiction and the first few chapters were all backstory. Same as you, I almost tossed it, but now I'm glad I persevered.

Personally, I tend to start writing a few scenes before I need to. But it's not a loss- the chapters get cut, but they help me get to know the characters.

Dominique said...

Why do you have to give such good advice? Now I feel like I need to go revise my WIP to make sure there's no backstory cluttering up the beginning, and there easily could be. Why do you have to make me try to be better than I am? ;)

Great post.

Tamika: said...

I'm on a personal mission to strengthen my novel, and back story is the arc enemy:)

Great post!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Yes! Backstory too soon is definitely a momentum killer. Great post, Susan. :-)

Kelly H-Y said...

Great advice (and the perfect picture to share it!).

storyqueen said...

Everybody has a backstory....but the truth is that most of us don't even want to hear about it(in real life) hehehe:)

Shelley

ag. said...

this is a great tip! it's often hard to get through some books because you really wonder when the real action is coming. good to keep in mind for my own writing!

Angela Ackerman said...

Preach it, baby. Backstory, for the most part, only belongs in one place...the first draft. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Erica M. Chapman said...

Oh yeah the dreaded backstory. I agree with you. I can't stand when a book starts with it. I usually don't make it long, unless it's been referred to me or unless I do know the author and know they're good...

Good advice ;o)

Amber Lynae said...

Sometimes it is so hard to remember that just because we as the writer know facts about our character that doesn't mean it is relevant to the plot and motion of the story.

Solvang Sherrie said...

This was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn when I first started writing again, but it makes a huge difference in the readability of a novel.