Friday, March 23, 2012
Some Might Say...
...tennis shoes and wedding dresses don't quite go together. Just like some might say backstory and novel beginnings don't quite go together. We're all entitled to our opinions, which there are plenty of on this topic. The general consensus is that backstory does not belong on the early pages of a novel. But, and this is a BIG but, even those opposed to backstory in novel beginnings think there are exceptions to this rule.
Many of you know how much respect I have for literary agent, Donald Maass, especially if you've read my series on THE FIRE IN FICTION. (If you haven't, you can access the posts from my sidebar). Anyway, here's what he has to say about early backstory:
Backstory is the bane of virtually all manuscripts. Authors imagine that readers need, even want, a certain amount of filling in. I can see why they believe that. It starts with critique groups in which writers hear comments such as, "I love this character! You need to tell me more about her!" Yes, the author does. But not right away. As they say in the theater, make 'em wait. Later in the novel backstory can become a revelation; in the first chapter it always bogs things down.
But there are exceptions.
Maass goes on to highlight an example from the opening pages of Robin Hobb's ROYAL ASSASSIN in which character Will Fitz engages in an interior monologue exploring his motives. It is littered with backstory. If you'd like to read the full example, it's on page 208-209 of THE FIRE IN FICTION. Maass explains that this backstory works in the opening pages because it expresses the character's inner tension.
Maass concludes his example with this comment (which I feel sums up the whole topic of backstory in a nutshell):
To put it more simply, Hobbs uses the past to create present conflict. That is the secret of making backstory work.
Okay, I don't know about you, but I'm really sick of the subject of backstory. This is my last post on the matter. Well...at least for now. I can't promise the topic will never be brought up again on this blog. But I can promise it will be a while before I mention it again.
But I would like to hear any of your final thoughts. How do you feel about backstory on the early pages of a novel? What makes it work? What makes you want to put the novel down?
I'll be back next week to discuss an entirely different subject. Not sure what, but I'll be back. Until then, have a fabulous weekend!