Monday, March 26, 2012

I've Got Nothing!

My shoe box is completely empty. I don't have a single thing to talk about, and I'm wondering why. Last week, I thought of a zillion things I wanted to discuss here. I even knew what shoe pictures I wanted to post. Then the weekend got all crazy on me, and now I can't remember any of them.

Life triples in business for me this time of year, and my mind is a little frazzled. Both my sons play baseball which means I lose about 15 hours a week of time, and my daughter's dance season is coming to an end so there's lots of extra activity going on involving that. And this year is going to be even busier since she's graduating. Last year, when things got hectic, I got so overwhelmed that I took a break from blogging and didn't come back for six months. I don't want that to happen again. It's got me wondering what I can do to keep it from happening. I know one thing...I'm going to cut my blogging down to one day a week. And I'm warning you, there may be a lot more empty shoe box posts.

Hmm...look at that. I guess I had something to talk about after all.

What do you do when life gets crazy and you can't think straight?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Some Might Say... 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. 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!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

These Shoes Don't Belong In The Snow!

Before I get into the whole gist of this post, I have to give a big shout out to my friend Robyn Campbell. A short story of hers will be published in the anthology REAL WOMEN, REAL STORIES. For all you naysayers out there about the phenomenon of my blog breaks (you know, the one where I go on break and someone who follows me gets good news), well, this is yet more proof. If you don't already know Robyn, you should go say hello and congratulate her. She's awesome!

Okay, so now on to the gist of this post. When I left on break, I was exploring the topic of backstory. We've talked a little about where it belongs in a manuscript, but what we haven't touched on is where it doesn't belong.

One thing I've found repeated over and over again by successful authors, agents, and publishers alike, is that backstory does not belong in dialogue.

Noah Lukeman, literary agent and author of The First Five Pages, has this to say about it:

Informative dialogue is most often found in "high concept" novels, where the writer is so anxious to execute his idea that he never stops to consider the wants and needs of his characters. Dialogue of this sort is sometimes used to fill the reader in on current or future events, but is most commonly found filling the reader in on "backstory," on things that have already happened (to this end, it is commonly found toward the beginning of manuscripts).

The most common malady is use of dialogue to convey backstory. The solution is to follow this rule: Dialogue should not be used to state things both characters already know, that is, one character should not remind the other character of something. It is an obvious ploy, intended only for the reader.

Donald Maass, literary agent and author of several books on the craft of writing, has this to say about it in THE FIRE IN FICTION:

Info dump is deadly. Backstory bogs things down. Zipping up information to make it more frightening or relevant doesn't help. Information is still just information. It's dead weight. Many authors attempt to get around that by disguising info dump as dialogue, but unfortunately that does not automatically work. Dialogue drags unless it is infused with tension; but, as we've seen, even that will only be effective when it is a tug-of-war between talkers.

There are countless other sources on the topic which I could list here, but just do an Internet search. I'm sure you'll find the same sources on your own.

Bottom line is this, (at least in my opinion), tread lightly when it comes to using dialogue to convey backstory. It's not easy to pull off, but as both of the above named sources admit, it can be done.

So, what do you think about backstory in dialogue?

Come back on Friday for a discussion about backstory in the early pages of a manuscript.

Monday, March 19, 2012

I'm So Happy To Be Back!

Okay, so my break lasted a little longer than I planned, but I'm back now for a while. And I couldn't be happier!

Before I left on break, we were discussing backstory. Speaking of backstory...I could give you a rundown of all the reasons I was gone so long, but I won't bore you with the details. Let's just say that a lot has been going on. None of it terribly exciting. None of it terribly terrible. Just ordinary, everyday stuff.

I'll return to the topic of backstory in my next couple of posts, but today, I want to hear what all I've missed around here? Come one...tell me! Who's got awesome news to share?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I'm Hanging Up My Shoes

For those of you who are new here, when I take a longer than usual break from blogging, I call it "Hanging Up My Shoes". And if you ask around, you'll find out that when I do go on break, good things tend to happen to my followers. Several have signed with agents. Several have sold books. So, who knows? This could be your lucky week! I intended on taking a break later this month, but some unexpected things came up, forcing me to take it a little sooner than expected. I know I promised some more on my research about back story, and I will get to that when I return. Which, if all goes as planned, will be in the next week or so. I will be around reading blogs as much as possible in the meantime.

Now, I have one very important question for you: Is "backstory" one word? Or is it two (back story)? I've seen it both ways, and you may have noticed that I've alternated between the two. According to Wikipedia, either is correct. And my research sources varied on the spelling. But according to the spell check on Blogger and on MS Word, back story (two words) is correct. Just for fun, I thought I'd poll you and see what the popular choice is.

So, what say you? Back story? Or Backstory?

Friday, February 3, 2012


This shoe brings up all kinds of emotion! Mostly fear. Not only of the thing inside it, but the height of that heel! Yeesh! I'd break my neck if I tried to wear that thing. I'm sure there would be a time and place where one might wear such a thing. Take a Halloween costume party for example.

Just like there is an appropriate time and place for shoes to be worn, there is also an appropriate time and place where backstory should be inserted. Instead of getting into all the places it doesn't belong right now (we'll get to that later), I'd like to discuss where it does belong.

Darcy Pattison explains it well here. She says that backstory is there to add emotional weight to the story. It can strengthen characters' motivations and make events mean more. She states that backstory should be put exactly where it impacts the emotional weight of the story.

Like the idea of using backstory to "hook" the reader, the idea of using it to heighten emotion is not so much a rule as a logical guideline. It makes sense to me. Does it make sense to you?

I'll be back next week for more on the topic of backstory. Until then, have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Okay, so maybe I was wrong...

Apparently there IS black and white in fiction writing. Well, not exactly, but I did find it interesting that shortly after I wrote my last post about how there was no black and white in writing, I came across this post by Jeannette Cezanne on the Beyond The Elements of Style blog. If you happen to click over, you'll read all about black and white in her sidebar.

Anyway, Jeannette's post has nothing to do with black and white. It's about backstory. It's short and does not give a lot of information, but it does mimic a comment from one of my readers, Angela Ackerman, on my initial post on backstory. Here's what Angela has to say about backstory:

I think the trick with backstory is to look at it as .
'hooks'. Dole out tiny bits that get the reader asking more questions and make them intrigued enough to keep reading.

Backstory also has to tie into the current action. For example, the backstory event in my books opening is that the mc recently had a drowning accident. How can I get this info out without a ton of pace killing telling? Make her first scene in a bathroom with her little brother, attending a toilet send off for his beloved fish. The dead fish in the water is a natural trigger for her to relive what happened to her, and so when it comes out, it isn't dumpy, but hooks the reader along to find out what exactly happened.

This comment made perfect sense to me. Backstory should be there to draw the reader in, not push them out of the story. When put that way, I do think there is some black and white truth to this. It's not exactly a rule. It's a logical guideline. Every writer wants to draw the reader in. Looking at backstory as "hooks" as Angela said, can help you to include it at the right time in the right amount. Jeannette's post that I mentioned at the beginning here, says almost the exact same thing.

So, do you have any examples of backstory hooks?

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Consensus is...

First, let me say that I'm thrilled with the response to my last post on back story. Not because you told me what I wanted to hear, but because so many weighed in on the discussion. In case you missed it, I posed the question: What is the deal with back story? It seems the majority of you think back story is fine (even a good thing) in small doses. You can read the post and the comments here.

Now, you may be wondering what today's picture has to do with back story. Well, it really doesn't. I chose this picture today because the thing that thrilled me most about the comments on my last post was that they renewed my excitement about blogging. They reminded me that I am not alone in this journey to publication. Sure...some of you are already published or at the very least a few steps ahead of me on the journey. Others are a few steps behind. And we may or may not be following the same path. But we are all walking in the same direction.

Most of you know that my paying gig is as a contract Accountant. I even posted about how the left and right sides of my brain battle against each other. I enjoy both crunching numbers and writing, but sometimes, numbers feel safer. You know why? Because there is a definite answer in numbers. There is a definite right way to do things. There is no gray area. Okay, sometimes there are loopholes or exceptions, and some might exercise a certain level of creativity (for lack of a better word) to save on taxes, etc. But for the most part, Accounting is a black and white process. Writing on the other hand, is mostly a gray area. There are so many different opinions out there about the "right" way to do things that it's hard to know which direction you should go in. Blogging provides a forum for discussions on these gray area topics. That's one of the reasons I spend so much time doing it.

So, I thank you all for your openness to express your opinions about these topics. It's like our own little pool of research participants.

Anyway, returning to back story... I have done quite a bit of research on the subject over the last several days, and I thought I'd share with you what I've found in my next few posts. But, as with everything else in this business, remember that what I share with you will purely be industry professionals' opinions. Remember...there is no black and white when it comes to writing.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Now that's just bad luck!

You know last week when I mentioned I tend to use the same shoe picture more than once? Well, this is one of those times. I remembered using this picture back in 2009, and I thought it would be perfect for what I wanted to talk about today. What I didn't remember was what that older post was about. Funny thing is, it was not all that different from what I'm going to post today. If you're dying of curiosity, you can read it here.

Back in 2009, I used this picture to initiate a discussion about inner conflict. Sure, we can see that the woman's heel is broken, which is an inconvenient external conflict. What we can't see, is what's going on inside of her. Why might this broken heel be such a horrible thing for her? Today's post was supposed to be about backstory. What in this woman's past has made this broken heel such a crisis? Were these the much beloved shoes of her dead grandmother? Did her ex-husband give them to her? Did this very heel save her life when she used it to bash in the skull of the man who tried to rape her?

What I'm getting at today (as I was in the 2009 post) is this: Why do we care that this woman has broken a heel? On the surface, it's just a piece of bad luck. Yes, if it happened to me, it would be an inconvenience so I might feel sorry for her for a moment. But if I passed this woman on the street in the morning as she struggled with her shoe, I'd probably forget all about her by lunchtime because I don't know her. And since I don't know her, I don't care a whole lot. Certainly not enough to read a 200 plus page book about her.

I've had some issues recently with making my MC likable--someone the reader will care about--so I re-read the first chapters of some of my favorite books with characters I loved immediately and could not stop thinking about long after I finished reading the book. You know what they all had in common? Backstory. Not only in the first chapter, but on the very first page. This goes against everything I've learned since I actively began pursuing novel writing. So, as things often do, it's got me thinking...what is the deal with backstory? Why is it so frowned upon? Wouldn't you be more likely to read a book about this woman with the broken heel if you knew right away that the shoes were special to her because they saved her life?

Now, I'm not saying I'm going against the grain and want to start some kind of pro-backstory protest. I just want to hear your thoughts on the matter. And if you have any appropriate links on the subject, please do share. I'll be posting more about this in the next few days, but for now, I'd love to know what you think.

Monday, January 16, 2012

300 Pairs of Shoes

Really, I'm not sure how many shoes are in this picture, but I do know that my blog has 300 pairs of shoes on it. Well... maybe not exactly 300 because there are a few pre-shoe posts, some of the pictures are of bare feet, and I have been known to use the same picture more than once. But still, it's close to 300. You know how I know that? Well, because this is my 300th post. That's a lot of posts. It's hard to believe I've actually come up with 300 posts of things to talk about. Granted, they weren't always intriguing, inspiring, motivating, humorous, heartwarming, etc., etc., etc. Nevertheless, I have written 300 posts.

To celebrate, I've decided to look back at what things were like for me 300 posts ago compared to what they are like now. So here we go...

300 posts ago, I was stupid excited about my future as a New York Times Bestselling author and all of the fan mail I would be receiving about how incredibly awesome my book is. 300 posts later, I'm stupid excited about receiving feedback from my amazing critique partners about how incredibly NOT ready my book is.

300 posts ago, I was casting the leads for the movie Hollywood would no doubt make based on my bestselling book. 300 posts later, I'm recasting the same movie because the actors I chose before are all way too old now. I'm looking at toddler actors because there's a good chance that by the time my book sells (and it will) and the movie is made, those toddlers will be teenagers.

300 posts ago, I was certain millions and millions of dollars would be rolling my way soon. 300 posts later, I've taken a day job because I've learned that even when my book sells (and it will), there's no million dollar guarantee.

300 posts ago, I was happy spending hour after hour with my characters without ever needing real human interaction. I guess some things never change. This is still true. But 300 posts later, I do realize that real human interaction is imperative. Not only for my own well being, but also for my muse. Without real human interaction, I become cranky. And my muse doesn't like it when I'm cranky, so she leaves me. And then all those characters I love to hang out with, well, they just sit around doing nothing, and I get bored.

Okay, I'm exaggerating a little bit here, but to a certain extent, it's all true. The bottom line is that 300 posts ago, I was naive about the publishing industry and my talent as a writer. I don't mean this post to be negative because it isn't. Quite the opposite actually. I'm thankful I've learned so much and come this far. I see growth, not only in my knowledge of the industry, but also in my talent as writer. For me, this is satisfaction in and of itself. Not to mention all the fun I've had blogging in the process.

So, what about you? Does this little exaggeration sound familiar? No worries. I'm confident we'll get where we want to be. We just have to lean on each other and keep on working hard. Here's to what we've learned and to what lessons still lie ahead!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Take A Walk...

...On over to Jill Kemerer's Place. I'm being interviewed there today. If you don't already follow her, you should. It's always a pleasure stopping by to see what morsels of information she has to share. And while you're at it, stop by K.M. Walton's Place and hear all about her CRACKED launch party! The book came out on January 3rd, and I'm so excited for Kate! So what are you waiting for? Go congratulate Kate and then head on over to Jill's. I'll be here trying to repair the damage I did to my blog while trying to get my sidebar back to the side instead of the bottom. Anyone know how to do that?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Happy New Year!

I know I'm a little late with the New Year's wishes, but I've been preoccupied with two new distractions. And, no, unfortunately, they aren't two shiny new ideas. One is the Nook Color, and the other is a boxer rescue puppy, both of which Santa brought to our house on Christmas. Since then, when I haven't been chasing the puppy around, I've been mesmerized by the Nook. Sad thing is I'm not just reading on it. I'm also playing Words With Friends. It seems I've become addicted. And believe me, the last thing I needed was another procrastination activity.

So, I've decided enough is enough. It's time to make some changes. Otherwise, I may never get any writing done. The Nook has been banned to my nightstand. I will exercise discipline and not touch it until my nightly bedtime reading. And, as for the puppy...well...she's going to have to learn a little discipline too and sit quietly by my feet while I go about my writing business. Hmm...I wonder which one of us will prove to be more disciplined. My bet's on the puppy. :)

What about you all? How's the New Year going so far? Santa bring you any new distractions?