Monday, February 3, 2014

Creating Characters One Layer at a Time--Layer Four--Backstory--Don't Write It--Live It


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We are going to start the New Year off right (as if our wild New Years Eve Party didn't do that!) by talking more about what makes characters tick.

New Years Resolutions? That precious diet? That commitment to daily Bible reading? Those new writing habits that will crank out a bestseller every six weeks?
You know THOSE HABITS
Well, is anyone still keeping theirs? Mine was actually to start drinking 8 cups of water a day and so far so good, but I've learned to strive for SIMPLE THINGS because hard things are not successful for me.
Do any of you ever succeed at those resolutions?
Click to Buy
Sure some of us do but mostly not and I'll tell you why (as if I know what I'm talking about!) It's because:
 Who we are is deeply ingrained 
All of our habits are part of who we are
Whether or not we are born the way we are or we are trained by our lives to be the way we are is one of the great debates. Nature vs Nuture. And one of the reasons it remains a debate is because our behavior goes back to the beginning...and no matter which is the right answer...the end result is the same.
Who and what and how we are is deeply fundamental.
We are a product of our environment.
And so are your characters...if you're doing it right.

And this is where we come to making a character's looks and actions and voice be true to his nature.
Read Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series below. I've linked to them.

Creating Characters Part 1: How they Look
Creating Characters Part 2: How they Act
Creating Characters Part 3: How they Talk

We've been talking about Matthew Tucker, the hero of book #2 in the upcoming Wild at Heart series. Book #1 Tried and True, (now available for Pre-order on Amazon...I haven't got a cover yet!) It releases in September 2014. Tucker is in Tried and True as a strong secondary character but he is the hero of Book #2 Now and Forever. Just so you know, there is also a book #3 Fire and Ice.


Now if ever anyone has had a contest entry critiqued by me or gained my amazing (???) advice in the writing arena you will know I am obsessed with cutting backstory.

Especially up front it’s just the best and easiest way to:

Grind action to a halt

Lose a contest

Get your submission rejected

Mark yourself as an amateur

But here’s where it gets tricky.


Never put backstory in your book…AND…Backstory is essential.

Let’s all just ponder that statement for a while.

In fact, I believe we should all sort of read that paragraph over multiple times—perhaps to that music they play during Final Jeopardy.

It’s the kind of statement that makes people want to quit being writers because, like all the other rules, in the end it’s all about balance.

Tucker Smith
Of course I put a few paragraphs of backstory in, but you just need to be so minimal about it. It's something I keep trying to get better at because I know I repeat myself in my books and a lot of that repetion is backstory.

Here's Tucker thinking about why he ran when he realized how interested he was in Shannon.

He’d seen Sunrise raise a crowd of young’uns mostly alone. Tucker liked her husband Pierre Gaston, admired him and ran around with Pierre and Tucker's own pa Able, though Pa had died before Tucker was an adult. He liked the life those tough old mountain men lived and wanted it for himself.
But that didn't change the fact that Pierre left Sunrise behind to a hard, lonely life. She'd fed and clothed and even birthed all her young'uns almost completely alone. Pierre had spent most of the winter with her, which usually ended up bringing another child. Then he'd headed for the high up hills come spring, summer and fall. And there she'd be with a growing family, a baby on the way and whatever work she had to do to keep things going.
Tucker had loved Sunrise and, quiet as she was, he'd known it hurt her to be left over and over. Mostly he'd known it because it had hurt him to be left by his pa and it'd hurt worse because, kind as Sunrise was, Tucker didn't really belong to the Gaston family.
Not only a woman was hurt by a mountain man's yondering ways, his children were, too.
Sunrise's sons grew up and took to the mountains and trapping like their pa and they’d taken wives and left them mostly alone to raise lonely kids. Sunrise's daughters had lives mostly the same with trapper husbands who left them behind.
Tucker didn’t want that life for a woman and children he cared about. And he wanted the mountain life he’d been born to. So, he’d figured to steer clear of woman.
And then when he’d kissed the livin’ daylights out of Shannon Wilde.
That’d settled the whole thing as far as he was concerned. He had a feeling things weren’t settled at all for Shannon.

But you need to keep long descriptive passages like this rare. If possible act things like this out on the page. The reader will get it. If your characters do reveal their backstory it's 90% in sentence tags or moments of dialogue.
Of course you need to put backstory in but……OKAY! WAIT!

That’s not what my blog post is about.

Sorry. Tangent, huh?

Back to Creating Characters...So, Tucker, everything I’ve mentioned in previous posts about how he looks, acts and talks is about his backstory. It reveals who his character is.

Here is the beginning of Tucker’s book:


Now and Forever

Matt Tucker slung a haversack over his shoulder—it had everything in it he needed to live, and rambled up a trail that'd scare the hair off a mountain goat. He’d left his horse behind, wanting to travel light and go places even his tough gray mustang couldn’t go.

He could take people for only so long and then he had to get up in the mountains, all the way up where he was more likely to run into a golden eagle than a man. He’d wander in the thin pure air for a week or two, to clear his thoughts. Forget the smell and behavior of men.

This time it wasn't men driving him to the high-up peaks. This time it was a certain head full of black curls and a pair of shining blue eyes. Not a man—though no one would admit it—which was so odd he almost turned around.

In fact he wanted to turn around so bad he walked faster.


Now this is a very mild opening and I like to explode them. If you’re worried I’m going soft here, two paragraphs later, this happens:

Shannon Wilde
Tucker scooted past a boulder—and stomped on the toe of a bear cub. A squall drew his eyes down. A roar dragged them up. He looked into the gaping maw of an angry mama grizzly. He hadn’t heard her or smelled her. Honestly, that was so careless and stupid he almost deserved to die.

She swung a massive paw and he had no time to dodge. She knocked him over the side of that mountain. 

So the fun begins. Shannon is down there. They get to choose between jumping over the cliff or facing the charging mama grizzly. Shannon picks the cliff. Tucker knows this cliff and he’d have picked different—but he’d been tumbling a while and was a little dazed.

Anyway, my point is, who Tucker is, his backstory, all that he had gone through in his life to bring him to this point is what makes him Look, Speak and Act the way he does. So the earlier posts about those things only work if you know your character, know who he is, and rather than just dump all that info on your reader, you bring it out through his clothing choices, the weapons he carries, the horse he rides, through the words he speaks, through his actions on every page of your book.

And there you go. This completes the Mary Connealy Four Part Tutorial on Character Creation.
Can anyone think of anything else? Any more layers? Cuz I’ll keep writing month after month if you want me to. 
Leave a comment about your character’s backstory. WHO he is…explains WHY he is. So make sure you know.
            Today, one lucky commenter will win a $25 Amazon gift card.



123 comments:

Marianne Barkman said...

Thanks, Mary! I always love your peeks into your characters! Yep, I was wondering where our Mary was and who the imposter was. That dared take her place! No guns! But a bear cub and its mama work just as good! Some chocolate biscotti as we're headed into the Glendale Chocolate Affair!

Helen Gray said...

Coffee's a brewing!!

Mary, you're forcing me to think too much. My brain is on overload. But the points you make are great advice. Thankee.

I happen to be one of those incredibly fortunate people who have had a chapter critique from you. And that particular chapter--along with the rest of the book--is set to release in a month. Ain't that a hoot???



Mary Connealy said...

Chocolate Affair? Marianne, you just go have a GOOD GOOD TIME!!!!

(how can you not!?)

Mary Connealy said...

Helen I cannot WAIT to read this book. ONE MONTH?????

YAY!!!!!!!!!!!

Marianne Barkman said...

Helen, what's the name? I'll be looking for it!

Mary Curry said...

Mary, this is great stuff! Thanks.

I was working today on backstory for a character who is dead. The life she lived and the choices she made seriously impacted my hero and heroine, so it was critical for me to know her story.

Helen Gray said...

Marianne,

The title is Ozark Sweetheart, a Heartsong Presents.

Marianne Barkman said...

Ooooo! Sounds good!

Melissa Jagears said...

Ha, in reviews here lately I've gotten some "not enough backstory" can't please them all. :)

Then you read a classic like Vanity Fair and there's like an entire chapter of backstory down to the person's china and silverware origins for a minor minor character. Tedious.

Or in War and Peace there's an entire chapter on how they cut the grass. Which I actually enjoyed.

BUT THEN, if you love a character, like in the Princess Bride I LOVED the chapters of backstory on Fezzik and his morning yogurt breaks and wrestling in Greenland (which only has a sentence in the film).....depends on the writing style I guess.

I've done nothing but muddy the waters. You're welcome. :)

Melissa Jagears said...

Ok, the actual question I'm supposed to answer. Knowing a character's backstory is crucial for making non-cardboard characters. Also gives you a greater variety of action beats for telling emotions.

So when my almost doctor in my upcoming story feels like he's not doing a good job, I don't have to solely rely on things like sighing or slumping to show that. But he's got a ring on his finger he plays with, and you'll find out later in the story what it's significance it has connected to some past event of his. So in another character's POV, if that character observes him playing with his ring, the reader knows what's going on in his head even though I'm not in his POV. Backstory also creates reasons for characters to act differently to the same situation.

So if you've ever been accused of cardboard characters, backstory work is probably a good idea.

Cindy W. said...

I love it when backstory is 'sprinkled' without. You know, like Melissa said about her doctor playing with his ring. It gives the reader a chance to try to figure the character out, which would be no different than real life if you continually watched someone play with the ring. You might try to find out more about that person.

Thank you for the wonderful posts on Creating Characters Mary. Also, I woke up really quick when I saw Mr. Tom Selleck's gorgeous face on your post!

Would love to be entered into your giveaway.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

Jackie said...

Good morning Mary,

I was going over a story last night and tried to find the "real" beginning that didn't include back story.

Thanks for the kick I needed.

Marianne, chocolate biscotti, yum!

Have a great day!

Jackie said...

Helen, congrats on your book release!

Mary Hicks said...

MaryC, thanks for the reminder of less backstory.

But shoot—I LOVE backstory... I can't finish my WIP for threading in backstory and then having to snip it out.

Tucker sounds like a neat character. :-) And I love Tom Selleck.

Rose said...

Hi Mary,

Great advice, as always!

Tina Radcliffe said...

I am pondering, as you said to. You are right. I hate to admit it. YOU ARE RIGHT.

Connie Queen said...

Good morning, Mary.
I need a little more caffeine and then re-read this again. Lots of info.

I like backstory that comes as a bomb toward the end of story. I don't write stories like that, I just like 'em.

Your characters come off as very real. Love your voice.

Debby Giusti said...

Reaching for a cup of coffee!!!

Backstory...so important...to the author!

I focus on internal conflict, which usually springs from that backstory.

It's warm in GA!

I need a logo that reads: Survived the ATL Snow Shutdown of 2014!!!

Now it seems like spring. Go figure!

DebH said...

hi Mary
I've loved getting to know Tucker in your post series (more please!). Of course, Tom Selleck in his Quigley Down Under role is such a perfect picture too *swoon*.

Everything you wrote makes perfect sense in a weird, Mary C sort of way. You have to know the backstory in order to know which parts the reader gets to share and which parts are only for you to flesh out your characters.

As for Nature vs. Nuture. As an adopted child who found her birth parents - I can definitely say it is BOTH. Nuture from my MOM has given me some attributes, but there were things I did growing up that made her wonder "where the blazes did THAT come from?". Well, when I met my birth mom... ta daaaaa - mystery solved. LOTS of mysteries solved.

Oh, and if you ever want to offer, I'd love to get a critique from you. I do realize though that you're uber busy with this writing gig thing along with keeping up with birthing calves and life in general...

Awesome post Mary! Another keeper for my files to help me along my wandering path to publication. THANKS!!!!!!!!

Jeanne T said...

Great post, Mary! I'm still learning how to put in those character layers. This series has been helpful!

i'm learning the art of using backstory breadcrumbs—revealing a crumb here and a crumb there, when necessary, so that I don't end up doing the big dump. :) Loved your examples!

Janet Kerr said...

I have been enjoying & printing your series Mary. And the characters in your books are vivid.
Thanks so much for putting this together!
Jan

Sandra Leesmith said...

Morning MARY, I have to so chuckle at your insistence for backstory but not to have it in the story. Typically my whole first chapter is backstory and then I have to start on chapter three. So I have learned this about myself and just write it and then take it out and sprinkle it in throughout the story.

I love the backstory. I want to know why characters act the way they do. But you are so right It has to be placed just so. It really does deepen the character as MELISSA said.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Wonderful stuff! Thanks for sharing your insight and talent, Mary :)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Ooo!!! Tom Selleck!!! How did you know it wsa my birthday, Mary? Hahaha! Thanks for the present!!!

Oh my goodness, backstory. This is one of the main reasons I have such a hard time writing the first few chapters of a book. How much backstory does the reader need? It is so difficult to leave it out. Sigh. Now I will go back and read what you said, Mary. Hopefully you will save me from myself, and save my readers from too much backstory.

Chill N said...

Happy Birthday, Melanie!

Nancy C

Julie Lessman said...

WHOO-HOO, HELEN ... ONE MONTH???? Can't wait!!!

Hey, Mare, you really got me thinking, something I try to avoid this early in the morning, but oh well.

I never really thought about backstory in my stories till this post, and, but heck, I just realized that I start EVERY SINGLE STORY with ... YIKES ... backstory!! True, it's a provocative thought loaded with hints as to the story and the heroine's personality, but backstory nonetheless:

Sisters are so overrated, she decided. Not all of them, of course, only the beautiful ones who never let you forget it. -- A Passion Most Pure

Now this is how love should be -- nice and neat. -- A Hope Undaunted

Sweet Thunderation, deliver me from pretty men! -- Love at Any Cost

“Close your mouth, Devin Caldwell, you’ll swallow a fly.” -- Surprised by Love

I guess because I like to get into my character's mind right off the bat, but I think I could use some Mary Connealy action up front, so I'm gonna try and tone down that backstory in the beginning -- THANK YOU for the kick in the butt!!

Hugs,
Julie

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Mary,

Such good advice! Backstory is crucial for the author to understand her character.

I think this was missing in my earlier stories. Now I try to spend quite a bit of time figuring out the characters and their backstory, scars, issues, etc. before I start writing.

Yay, it's February and it's sunny today. The snow looks so much nicer in the sunshine!

Cheers,
Sue
sbmason at sympatico dot ca

Susan Anne Mason said...

Oh, Happy Birthday, Melanie! Hope it's a fun day!

Chill N said...

Oh my gosh, I love it when a sprinkle of backstory comes through and I know something about the hero/heroine that the other characters don't. It puts me even more deeply into that character's POV.

I think that's actually what I enjoy most about reading fiction -- learning what makes the characters tick.

Sidenote: Certain backstory has also made me more fearful of caverns. Ahem.

Nancy C

Chill N said...

Should I be concerned that I understand this sentence? "Never put backstory in your book…AND…Backstory is essential."

Should I seek professional help?

Nancy C

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thank you, Nancy C, Chill N! ("Chill N" reminds me of the way some people in South Alabama say "children.")

Mary, this is a very good post on creating characters AND backstory. You're showing their character and their backstory in the little choices you make about what they're wearing, what they say and how they say it, their choices and actions. It's a great reminder!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thank you, Sue!

Myra Johnson said...

Another great teaching post, MARY! And you do create the most interesting and engaging characters!

One of the things I enjoy most about writing novels in a series is that in the first book or two, I'm getting to know all kinds of fun stuff about the secondary characters who will then star in the upcoming novels.

The challenge then becomes filling in new readers on those characters' pasts naturally--without dumping it in chunks and trying to over-explain. I remember so well judging a contest entry once that clearly was a sequel, because the writer kept dropping in all this backstory as if to inform the reader what anyone who read the first book would already have known.

Mary Connealy said...

Helen, I pre-ordered your March 1 book AND your June 1 book. I'm so excited for you!

Janet Dean said...

Excellent post, Mary! Looking forward to Tucker's story!

My bounty hunter hero stays clear of women, not that he's successful with one very pretty widow. His desire to avoid connections comes from seeing his fiancé shot and killed by an outlaw gunning for him. His sister was maimed saving his ten-year-old hide. Those two episodes in his past remind him that caring for someone gets them hurt and that a heavy load of guilt and anger makes finding the man who killed Rachel paramount. That guilt and need for vengeance separates him from God.

Janet

Mary Connealy said...

Melissa, sorry about the 'not enough backstory' critique.

Again, it's all about balance. But you have mastered cutting it, and may cut it too much. (I thought your book was very well done!!!)

But cutting too much backstory isn't the USUAL weakness, most of us just leave too much in, tell too much too soon.

Mary Connealy said...

If you have your character ACTING OUT HIS LIFE, then you're setting up his backstory without dwelling on it. and then when you DO tell it, you can be very short, succinct...but it will make so much sense you don't have to talk on it for too long.

Mary Connealy said...

Cindy W, I love what you said about 'meeting someone in real life'. That's the way it is in real life isn't it?

We do NOT get to know everything about everyone from the word HELLO.

Mary Connealy said...

Jackie...the REAL beginning. LOL I love that. Yes, where to I begin this story. Tricky.

Mary Connealy said...

Mary Hicks, an important thing to help you FEEL BETTER about writing and then snipping...that is NOT wasted time. You NEED to know that backstory.

YOU NEED TO.

The reader....needs to, also, but not right up front, not in one big backstory dump.

Mary Connealy said...

Good morning, Rose. :D

Janet Dean said...

Wow, Helen!! Only a month until the release of your debut. I'm so excited for you! Will order it!

Janet

Mary Connealy said...

Tina, honey, why do you hate to admit I'm right.

C'mon now girl, you know the whole world works so much more smoothly if EVERYONE JUST ADMITS I'M RIGHT ALL THE TIME.

(well, it works more smoothly for me at least!)

Jackie Smith said...

Interesting post, Mary.....as always!!
I am just a reader...would love to be in the Stetson hat for the gift card....THANKS!!

Congrats to Helen....will be looking for your book (s).

Mary Connealy said...

Connie Queen, I know what you mean about the Backstory Bomb.

I just finished Ruthy's Lawman's Holiday Wish and there is backstory about the hero's deceased wife...and Ruthy hints at something bigger then just her death for most of the book and then BOMBSHELL!

Ruthy plays it perfectly.

Sweet book, Ruthy.

Janet Dean said...

Happy Birthday, Melanie!! I know so many Feb. birthday girls, all as nice as you!

Janet

Mary Connealy said...

Um...when I saw SWEET BOOK RUTHY I didn't mean it was overly SUGARY sweet, I mean it as in....

You bet on the Seahawks last night? SWEET!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

See, right here...Debby Giusti says,


Backstory...so important...to the author!


This is a huge statement. It IS important to the author, so vitally important. Do not ever think time spent on backstory, even if you end up cutting it from your book, was WASTED time. You HAVE to do it to get to the heart of your character.

You just have to dole it out carefully. But that backstory dump you need to cut, think of it as exploring who your character is, getting it down on paper. It needs to be done.

Mary Connealy said...

DEBH, so well put....
You have to know the backstory in order to know which parts the reader gets to share and which parts are only for you to flesh out your characters.

And it's so interesting that you met your adoptive mother and recognized some of yourself in her. That would make a great premise for a book, you know.

Mary Connealy said...

ALSO DEBH--ARE YOU READY FOR SPEEDBO? BECAUSE THAT'S COMING IN MARCH AND ONE OF THE PRIZES WILL BE SEEKER CRITIQUES! WE HAVEN'T HAMMERED OUT ALL THE DETAILS BUT YOU SHOULD BE GETTING YOUR AFFAIRS IN ORDER Wow, that sounds like death...oops) SO YOU'RE READY WHEN SPEEDBO BEGINS MARCH 1ST.

Mary Connealy said...

JEANNE T Backstory breadcrumbs, I love this image. Because as we all know, breadcrumbs can leave a trail for you to follow...a trail to follow that leads your reader to understanding your character!

Mary Connealy said...

Hi Janet Kerr, you're really printing off my character posts? You know a link in a saved email would just bring you right back here at any time.

I only say that because my printer hates me and printing is something I avoid like the PLAGUE.

Mary Connealy said...

Good Morning, Sandra. Writing then cutting the backstory, very NORMAL, and a great exercise.

Have you ever had someone tell you to INTERVIEW your character? Well this is the same isn't it? You'd never put that interview in your book, you'd just get to know the character better.

But to a writer (at least to me) writing it all out in story form is just so natural, so much like the way I operate in my head and with my books, that to INTERVIEW the character just seems sort of odd and forced. But it works on the same premise.

Mary Connealy said...

Hi Sherri, thanks for stopping in! I saw you punching your husband on facebook a day or two ago. Way To Go, (oh maybe not, her husband seems quite nice)

(clue, big padded boxing gloves. It looked more fun than fight!)

LOL

Mary Connealy said...

Melanie, today is your birthday?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MELANIE!!!! WE NEED CAKE AND ICE CREAM AND CANDLES!!!

I just finished The Captive Maiden, btw, by Melanie Dickerson. I loved it. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get it read. You bring freshness and fun to classic tales. How brilliant is that?

Mary Connealy said...

Julie, I love your books and you always take us for an emotional ride. Whatever you're doing is working. :)

Cindy Regnier said...

As authors we know our character's backstory way better than a reader ever will. So tempting to just tell it so they know it as we do. But - that's where we lose the reader. While enthralling to us, it's boring to a reader. Do I have that right Mary? btw great series on characters. Definitely a keeper.

Mary Connealy said...

Susan Ann Mason....WE SURVIVED JANUARY!

I am soooooo over winter!

And btw, the Groundhog saw his shadow, so there will be six more weeks of winter.

In related news, I'm serving Groundhog Stew for lunch. Grrrrr...

Mary Connealy said...

Chill N, sorry about the Cavern Fear. But I think if you only go to caverns without MADMEN and KILLERS living in them...you should be okay.

(I hope!)

Mary Connealy said...

Way to go, Birthday Girl. You just summed up my entire four month long series in one paragraph.
Melanie Dickerson said:
Mary, this is a very good post on creating characters AND backstory. You're showing their character and their backstory in the little choices you make about what they're wearing, what they say and how they say it, their choices and actions. It's a great reminder!

Mary Connealy said...

MYRA see this is why I try and work waaaaaay ahead if my contracts will allow it.

I had about 20,000 words done on book #3 of the upcoming Wild at Hearts series before final revisions were due on book #1. Well, in writing book #3 I finally nailed down Book #3 hero Gage Coulter's backstory. I then had time to go back and thread in that backstory in book #1 and #2, but only just a bit, just hints of what's eating him.
But it's so hard to sort all of that out, for me, without writing the book, because even if I KNOW it, I'm not necessarily going to stick with it when it's time to write, because my books are so (excuse me, Vince) Pantster-ish.

Mary Connealy said...

Janet Dean, that's such perfect conflict, a bounty hunter who's life puts the woman he loves in danger.

What a great motivation to avoid love. Great CONFLICT!!!!! Great CHARACTER!!!

YAY!

Mary Connealy said...

HI, JACKIE SMITH!!! DO NOT GIVE ME 'JUST A READER!' WE ARE INSANELY IN LOVE WITH READERS AROUND HERE!!!

You're name is in the drawing!

Meghan Carver said...

I love your examples, Mary. This entire post has been so helpful in understanding my characters better and has spurred a couple of brain waves. :) One of my characters is a real Pollyanna, and I'm enjoying getting in her head. But I didn't want her to be so sunshiney just because. So, insert a tragedy in her past and voila! Thank you for your time and efforts spent here. Would love to be entered in the drawing.

Abbi Hart said...

Great post! I'm not a writer so I can't say anything about my character's backstory but as a reader I wholeheartedly agree with you! When books have long backstory just randomly thrown in it completely detracts from the story and sometimes is even enough to make me put down a book! Thanks for helping get the word out there!

Debby Giusti said...

Happy Birthday, Mel!!!

I brought cake.

Mary just talked about cake.

I baked. I brought. I'm cutting and serving.

Ice cream too.

Chocolate chip inside out cake. A family favorite.

Yum!

Mel gets the first slice.

Raise your hand if you want cake too.

Debby Giusti said...

BTW, Mary, love the pics of your hero and heroine. Isn't Tom Selleck a great hero!!! Love his size...a big guy but with heart.

You get your stories done far in advance, and I seem to be a just-in-time writer. Wish I could change. Is it habit or choice or just what works for me? Hmmm?

Jan Drexler said...

This has been such a great series, Mary. Are you sure it has to end?

I love my character's backstories. It may be that I spend more time thinking about their backstories than I do on the story itself! They keep me up at night. They have me wandering around on Google maps ("Where did my heroine's great-grandparents live? It has to be around here somewhere"). They fill my conversations with anyone who will listen.

But when it comes to writing the story down, an entire three weeks of thinking and daydreaming turns into one line about the hero playing with a ring, or the hero mentioning that his wife died - but in a way that you sense he's hiding more than he's telling.

Now THAT'S writing :)

BTW - am waiting anxiously for Tried and True!

Debby Giusti said...

Just an FYI...

My editor likes the internal conflict/backstory fairly well defined at the onset. A number of times, she's wanted me to add more info. So far, no complaints from readers. Of course, it's all woven into the opening and not dumped with a THUD!

Amy C said...

Mary, you always know how to make your characters so fun!

Mary Connealy said...

Meghan, I love that you made a Pollyanna with tragedy in her past. That's so LAYERED, I think. Good for you.

Mary Connealy said...

ABBI HART thanks for talking about this from a reader's perspective.

Mary Connealy said...

Debby, I knew someone else would do the actual cake baking.

I thought you all understood, I'm Management, You're Labor.

Mary Connealy said...

JAN DREXLER I know exactly what you mean, hours of writing, and research...and it ends up being ONE LINE in the book. But you, the writer, needs to know all that stuff.

Mary Connealy said...

Debby whatever you're doing is working. And you've got the stack of published books to prove it. :)

Mary Connealy said...

Amy C, thanks. This whole series has been me sort of struggling to put into words how I create characters.

I'm not really sure HOW I DO IT! So if anyone has other methods, like interviewing characters or, like Jan Drexler said, taking weeks creating them before she begins to write, I'd love to hear it.

Heidi said...

I've really enjoyed reading your article and all the comments! It's made me realize why I love books with the backstory revealed through actions and dialogue rather than several paragraphs of explanation by the author. Because if you're trying to get in the character's head, they wouldn't be explaining their own backstory to themself!

Thanks for the generous giveaway too! :)

DebH said...

Mary
Several people have told me my personal history would make a good plot stuff for books. Me? Not so sure. I do share the same facial expressions for little people that my birth father has. Apparently my half-sibs were worried I wasn't really the long lost illegitimate child of their father until I interacted with my nieces and nephews. Once they saw my facial expressions, they were "oh yeah, she's his kid all right."

as for SPEEDBO prizes... not sure I'd be lucky enough to win something. Didn't last year, although I do say I've "won" some really good stuff here in Seekerville. But in "real" life? Nada. Never win a door prize, never win anything really(except at Seekerville 'cuz y'all are just that generous). This is a huge reason why I don't even try to play the lottery (not the only reason but a big one).

Jamie Adams said...

You've given me a lot to think about. I usually know my characters back story but not so much with my new book. He's the town lawyer just promoted to district attorney. A mail order bride comes to town under false pretenses. (hoodlums playing a prank on the sheriff order him a bride)She expects to marry a man who has no idea she exist. Hero/lawyer steps in help. Other than the fact he hates that his job forces him to stick to a schedule and he likes to solve problems I don't know much about what makes him who he is. I guess I better go spend some time getting to know him.

I think the real problem is he isn't a cowboy. All heros should be cowboys!

Jackie said...

Happy birthday Melanie!

Mary Connealy said...

Hi Heidi. See that's the trick, instead of just spouting 'here's what she's like' and 'here's what motivates him.'

You reveal it, act it out.

Mary Connealy said...

DebH, I KNOW JUST WHAT YOU MEAN! I NEVER WIN ANYTHING EITHER!

My Cowboy seems luckier. He once won 50 yard line tickets to a Nebraska Cornhusker game. And he just seems to win so often I've gotten to putting HIS NAME down on raffle tickets rather than mine, hoping that will bring me luck.

I once won a dozen roses. I remember the sweet victory to this day.

Mary Connealy said...

Jamie Adams, you know I think it should be a law.

FROM NOW ON ALL HEROES ARE COWBOYS.

That is tricky, I know, but still, I wish everyone would switch without a fuss.

Elaine Manders said...

Thanks for another great post, Mary. I'm not being dinged for backstory as much as I used to be, but it's hard to keep under control.

When I saw Tom Selleck it made me want to see your books made into a TV series, though Tom is too old now. They could find a younger lookalike.

Yes, I'd like your character posts to continue. I looked at the beginning of my new manuscript and the first three paragraphs are the character assessing his problem. So I'd like to see how you handle introspection, you know, the way a character thinks.

Pam Hillman said...

I think I'd take a hundred outlaws over a squalling bear cub and his angry mama! Yikes! lol

Pam Hillman said...

Helen!!! One month??? Ohhhh, how exciting!!!!

Pam Hillman said...

Yeah, Cindy, Tom Selleck's pic nearly made me choke on my salad.

Mary, what a dirty low-down rotten trick to play to draw us in hook-line-and-sinker!

Mary Connealy said...

Elaine there's a pretty good chance that, unless your heroes problem is he's being chased by a Grizzly Bear, you need to rethink the beginning. Jump into action, explode the story. Picture the editor you're trying to get to buy your book. You need to write and opening that is RIVETING!!!!


My estimation is, you've got about two minutes and one page to hook her. And something needs to be HAPPENING. A guy standing, driving, whatever-ing and thinking about his problems ain't gonna do it. (insert exception for grizzly bear again...also cliffs, fires, gunfire, runaway stagecoach, explosions...)

Mary Connealy said...

Well, Tucker is gorgeous under the mess.

Bight shining blue eyes. Scruffy hair, a man who doesn't give his appearance a single thought.
But that doesn't stop him from being good looking.

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

Mary, that was wonderful! Please keep writing these!!!

CatMom said...

Wow, Mary.....super helpful post - - except now I'm humming the Jeopardy music and can't stop... ~ But thank you for this---a definite re-read for moi.
Hugs, Patti Jo

Mary Connealy said...

Eva Marie, can you think of some topic about Creating Characters I should go on with?

I'm just not sure what to write next.

Give me questions, I could answer them next month.

Mary Connealy said...

Of course I'll probably just answer them right now!

Mary Connealy said...

Hi Patti Jo, Next month I'll try and work The Brady Bunch theme, or maybe Gilligan's Island's theme song into the post.

Other songs we all know TOO WELL. :)
Glad you're finding the post useful.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Ooo, Debby!!! I've never had chocolate chip cake!!! I'm so excited! I have a feeling it's going to be my new favorite. Thank you!!!!!!

CatMom said...

p.s. HAPPY BIRTHDAY MELANIE!!!

And thank you, Debby - - I'd love a slice of your cake...mmmmmm.... :)

Janet Dean said...

Mary, I knew you'd like my rugged, wounded gun-toting bounty hunter hero. My mother would've warned me away from this guy. LOL

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Debby, tell us more about that inside outs Chocolate chip cake. Hope you have a sliver left for me.

Janet

Mary Connealy said...

Janet, we all love to read about a reformed bad-boy.
A woman saving him with her looooove!!!!!

And in real life, that's just a lame brained idea if there ever was one.

STAY AWAY FROM BAD BOYS! I'm reaching out to the younger seekervillagers here....and any of you who there's still time to save!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Is Debby's cake done yet?

I should have sent her a recipe so she could make cyber cake from one of my favorites, although I suspect I'll go ahead and eat whatever cake shows up!!!

I'm open-minded that way.

Cortney K said...

Hi Seekerville.

Ive been off for a while. Im down South visiting family, so been busy.

Mary,

Reading what you said about backstory, I realized that in one of my books I started off with backstory. Like you said, you need backstory but you don't need backstory.


(What I just said probably didn't make any sense.... LOL)



DeAnna Julie Dodson said...

This is a great series on character, Mary. Thank you!

Love your hero already!

DeAnna Dodson (Julianna Deering)

Mary Connealy said...

Cortney K, lol you pretty much said exactly what I said. It is essential and you must avoid it at all costs.


Good Luck with THAT!!!

Jenny Blake said...

Marianne the one thing I always associate Mary with is if in doubt blow something up or shoot something. It just resonates in my mind.

I have given up chocolate for the foreseeable future (doesn't include chocolate cake which a loving church member brought me yesterday) But chocolate blocks. I associate it with the start of the gall bladder attack that landed me in hospital and its a really good deterrent. (LIke teddy bear cookies the last one felt like lead in my stomach).

Jenny Blake said...

PS shameless plug anyone wanting to contribute to my album you still have plenty of time.

Mary Connealy said...

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Mary Connealy said...

JENNY! YOU'RE ON TO ME!!!

:)

Missy Tippens said...

Mary, what a great post! I'm falling in love with Tucker a little more with each one in the series. :)

And I'm still laughing about that GREAT line: would scare the hair off a mountain goat.

LOL!! Love it.

Missy Tippens said...

Also meant to say that I'm glad you're not going soft. As soon as you realized it, you threw in a mama grizzly and knocked them off a cliff. Nice. :)

Helen Gray said...

Mary,

Thrilled that you've ordered the books.

Courtney Phillips said...

Sad this is the end of your character posts!
Backstory is something I work on. I want people to understand my characters, but straight facts about them are boring :)
Hope everyone's staying warm. I'm so tired of ice!
Please enter me.

Joanne Hill said...

Great post, Mary. A very helpful series.
At first glance I thought the pic was Sam Elliot!

Mary Connealy said...

COURTNEY can you think of anything else you're interested in? I could try and figure out more posts. I just don't know what they'd be. :D

Mary Connealy said...

Joanne Hill, Sam Elliot is right up there with my favorite cowboys. Love him in a Stetson!

Mary Connealy said...

Missy, I probably should have gone with the Mama Grizzly faster!

wordsmithleighwsmith said...

Hello, Mary, and thanks for sharing your backstory thinking with us. I've lurked on your blog before, but this is my first time posting; I must say, an insightful discussion of how writers work on characterization brought me out of the shadows. I think I'm more than guilty of "overdoing backystorying"! For me, I fall into the trap of telling many stories first-person POV and then that opens up additional avenues with interior monologue and I use those to weave in the backstory as well as with showing the action and other dialogue. Lately, though, I've been writing some microfiction to train myself to be as succinct as possible with my storytelling. I also love your suggestion of interviewing the character; I'm working on what will probably be straight-ahead YA fiction, so I can see that working really well with my protagonist. I honestly had not thought of interviewing him--brilliant! Thanks again!

Walt Mussell said...

Thank you, Mary. I'm still mulling over that sentence about no backstory. And, I didn't get any sleep last night (overnight in ER with the younger child. no worries. he's fine.)

I think one of the challenges is that it's hard to tell when it belongs vs. someone telling you it's just an info dump.

Marianne Barkman said...

Happy Birthday, Melanie. I hope it was a great day!

Mary Preston said...

I love it when the backstory just plays out naturally throughout the story.

LeAnne Bristow said...

Hi Mary, Awesome Post! Backstory is something I've always struggled with, so I decided to sit down and get it out of my system. It turned out to be a 30k word story on its own, but as soon as I was done, my real story began to flow. So thanks for the help and I can't wait to read your book!

Mary Connealy said...

HI WORDSMITHLEIGHWSMITH I think I got that right. :)

I'm glad you came out of lurkdom to talk.
YA Fiction is such a hot commodity right now, Good luck with it. And any of these idea...use them, twist them around, find out what works for YOU.

Sherry said...

Wow, Mary! You got my heart pounding with that opening. Love Tom Selleck. :)

I have my very first historical romance releasing in October, and I'm going through edits right now. YIKES! Yes, my backstory info dump paragraph (haha) is now being moved toward the end of the first chapter. I usually like to sprinkle a couple of sentences here and there, but I still have lots to learn.

Sherry Kyle

Michelle F. said...

In mysteries I read they sometimes repeat some details of the back story in each book. Like in the Cat Who books by Lilian Jackson Braun they would talk about Qwilleran and explain about how he moved up north and have descriptions of him and his cats. This is good if you haven't read any of the books before. I'd love to win an Amazon gift card!