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:~: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 :~:

Backstory

Seems the topic of the day is backstory. Debbie's talking about it over at my chapter blog. Caroline Jewel's talking about it on Kristin Nelson's blog. Michelle Rowan FB'd she was having trouble weaving it in without info dumping on her readers. Backstory is such a tricky thing to work with. Esp. when other writers wave the "you may not use flashbacks, it's lazy writing" card in our faces.

I'm a rule-breaker. I don't put much stock in what the rules say we "should" or "shouldn't" do. I think you have to write the story the best way you can, and if that includes more or less backstory, you do what you have to do.

Case in point...STOLEN HEAT. It's a reunion story. For some reason I have a lot more trouble weaving backstory into books with reunion stories. And HEAT was no exception. In fact, it was the hardest book I've ever written because the backstory between Kat and Pete was the crux for the entire present suspense plot of the book. How on earth could I make that clear to the reader?

I did the best I could. I followed "the rules" and didn't use flashbacks. And I wanted to pull my hair out every time I sat at the computer. Finally, finished, I sent the book to my agent. Who read it and called me and said, "The plot is good. I like the action and suspense. But I don't care about these characters at all."

Talk about a major blow. I put the book away for a few weeks and moped. And then I dove back in and did a major rewrite. The result was a book that combined both past and present in a way I'd never done before. I sent it to my agent and gnawed on my fingernails while she read it. And when she called me the second time, I was sure it was going to be bad (worse!) news. I wasn't at all prepared to hear her say, "I can't believe the transformation in this book. You nailed it."

So what was the magic solution? I gave the readers glimpses into the past. I showed (instead of told) the love affair and what went wrong between them. And knowing all that made the current suspense plot, six years later, that much more exciting and frightening. It worked for THIS book. That doesn't mean it will work for every book. Each book is different and requires the writer to know how best to tell the story. Figuring what that way is is the hardest part of writing.

So when it comes to backstory...I say forget the rules and write the book the way it needs to be written.

I'm currently writing another reunion story. This time the current suspense plot is not directly tied to what happened between the main characters in the past, so I don't think I'll write it the same way I did HEAT. But I reserve the right to change my mind as I get deeper into the book.

What's your take on backstory?

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4Comments:

Blogger Minnette Meador said...

All I have to say, Eli, is...thank you. I was in the exact same position and the back stories were driving me wild, until I found out that if I actually went back there (i.e. not just infer them in the current action), it actually made the story more interesting. It's the best comment I get about Starsight (i.e. I LOVE that you did these little stories within a story about the character's past). Anyway, it's nice to know you editor loved the book...I can't wait to read it myself. :)

9:49 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

That's cool, Minnette! I, personally, love prologues (which really is a flashback, isn't it?) and flashbacks, esp. when the past is so crucial to the present story. You just can't get the emotion or immediacy with a character "thinking back" sometimes.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Cindy Procter-King said...

Great post, Eli. And so true.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Sejal said...

Yep yep yep! Those are the kind of reunion stories that always come out more emotionally intense.

Here are some of my favs:

Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas
Line of Scrimmage by Marie Force
Taken by the Night by Kathryn Smith
To the Brink by Cindy Gerard

Huh I KNOW there's a lot more I've read but these come to mind right now. Have you read any of these?? You should!

8:14 PM  

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