Friday, April 6, 2012

Back-story (Part 2)

You’ve written your characterization and now you’re good to go. Wrong!

Time to consider the back-story. What’s back-story? It’s the life chronicle of your characters. All of your characters. Every person in your novel has a past. They think, feel, and act based on their history just as we do.

If you don’t have critique partners, get some. Not your mom or best friend. They truly can’t be objective. Hook up with writer’s groups, workmates willing to share their opinions, or friend who love to read. Empower them to be honest. You’ll be glad you did.

My CPs are always willing to read a member’s work and constructively correct the flaws at any time. They’re also brutal about sloughing off.  Back when I was green and dumb, Beth Anderson took me under her wing. She sent me an insightful e-mail after reading my first chapter.

“A suggestion is to perhaps cut the back-story a little. I’d like to see your heroine’s issues be a mystery to me as a reader. After reading the first chapter there’s no mystery. I understand her, I understand her issues, and I know her history. Let her be more of a mystery, don’t tell me everything, let it come out in dribs and drabs.” Beth’s words made me think.

At our next meeting I broached the subject. Melissa Bradley, an author and friend who speaks her mind, said it was “too much, waaaay to soon”. Of course, the others agreed. These buds made me think even more and to these authors I am forever grateful.

This is what I finally learned:

If little Johnny peed his pants in third grade and the teacher shamed him in front of his class, we don’t care. It’s only important as a brief mention or a thought timely planted in the story. Johnny knows what he did and the reader only wants an indication if it brings out some deep dark secret which leads him to act as he does in your book.

This is what I finally figured out to correct my problem;

1 - List all the high points from your characterization. (Don’t panic; remember on Thursday we’ll discuss characterization.) Skip the height, weight, etc. You only want the important events, ie;

a. Johnny peed his pants
b. He feels shame whenever he wears brown
c. He won’t talk in front of groups
d. He has a fear of public bathrooms

Get the idea?

2 – Write your story and drop in a line of back-story here and there but only where it’s appropriate.

3 – Cross out the line from your list after you use it and note in the margin which page it’s on.

This method taught me to sprinkle in the back-story for the proper effect and not put the reader in a coma.

There will be pages in your book with plenty of back-story, but if the timing’s right it’s perfect.

Have a wonderful weekend!  Happy Writing!

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