Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Seven Ways to Weave in Backstory Without Slowing the Pace


Winnie Griggs

Hi! Winnie Griggs here.  I’m so excited to be back at Seekerville.  I hope everyone had a lovely and blessed Thanksgiving. Today I’m going to discuss backstory.

What is Backstory?  Quite simply, it is everything that happened to your characters from their birth up until the point your story opens.  So, by definition, all backstory is important, because, for fully realized characters, everything that came before shaped them into who they are today. 

However, while it is important for you, the writer, to know all of the minutiae of your characters’ history, you want to avoid the ‘info dump’ syndrome when revealing backstory to your reader.  In other words, don’t serve up the details in a dense chunk, or in a contrived, author-intrusive manner. 

So how do you give the reader the information she needs without making her eyes glaze over?  By paying attention to the what, when and how of your backstory revelations.

WHAT:  Include only the bits and pieces necessary to keep the reader with you.  You want to trickle the information in rather than deluge the reader. 

Like learning to properly season a favorite dish, once you get past the basics, weaving in backstory is more of an art than a science.  

Add too much or the wrong mix of seasonings and you risk making the meal unpalatable. 

Add too little and it becomes bland and uninteresting, lacking in that certain zest we all strive for.



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Let’s take a for instance. 

Suppose the protagonist in your current WIP was traumatized as a young child by witnessing his older brother drown while he stood by unable to help.  And to make matters even worse, let’s say his father blamed him for letting it happen.  In preparation for this story you’ve done extensive research on not only the probable effects this will have on his mental health and world view during his growing up years, but on the kinds of services and treatments that would and would not have been available to help him during whatever years this encompassed. 

In fact you have a file bursting with all sorts of fascinating, little known facts on the subject. 


Now, having discovered all of these intriguing bits and pieces of information is a good thing.  It allows you to have a much clearer picture in your own mind of who he is and what sort of coping mechanisms he would have developed, mechanisms that will likely have followed him into the present day of your story.  And, if at some point you have him or another character remembering or ‘flashing back’ to the early period of his life, you will have some authentic details to sprinkle in. 


The key here is the phrase ‘sprinkle in’.  Because, unless the information you have so diligently and painstakingly collected serves a real purpose in your story, furthering the plot, providing necessary characterization, solidifying your world building, etc., LEAVE IT OUT.

What you must consider, and consider ruthlessly, is whether the information is essential for the reader to know in order to make sense of your character motivations and move your plot forward. 

In other words, don’t toss in information for its own sake - it must serve a purpose (i.e.: foreshadow, show motivation, escalate tension/conflict, etc.). 



WHEN:  Provide background information only when it is absolutely necessary to further the action and development of your story’s current situation. If you attempt to front load your story with buckets of backstory, you will eliminate much of the suspense, the page-turning quality that drives your reader further into the story, that makes them eager to follow along as the layers are peeled back a little at a time.

In other words, it should answer a crying need for the reader to know this information at this point in time.  Revealing information too soon can deflate tension and steal the opportunity to have a ‘WOW, I didn’t see that coming!’ moment later in the book.

And to give your really big, JUICY stuff more punch, you’ll want to wait until it can serve either one of two functions:

1.    To answer a story question you’ve been building up to in earlier pages.
EXAMPLE: Perhaps your heroine shows very subtle signs of discomfort or nervousness, whenever the subject turns to boats or water sports. When you reveal in chapter seven that she is afraid of the water or perhaps it’s that she gets seasick whenever she boards a boat, then the reader will feel some satisfaction in having deduced all or part of the picture.

2.    To introduce an unexpected twist that will send your story in a whole new direction, or that will shed a startling light on prior events.
EXAMPLE: Think of the Darth Vader’s classic Star Wars line “Luke, I’m your father.”
or of the revelation in Pirates Of The Caribbean  that Will Turner’s father was a pirate.  Revealing either of these bits of backstory earlier in the story would have robbed them of much of their impact.

HOW:  There are a number of different methods you can use.  First, keep in mind that revelation of Backstory is most effective when it both unveils the past and adds to the present situation.

There are several ways to do this.   Today I’ll talk about seven of them.

Keep in mind that none of these methods are inherently good or bad.  The key is to know which method best fills the need of this particular part of your story.

For all of these methods, no matter which you use, keep in mind two directives:

·         Pare your information down to the bare essentials of what needs to be revealed.

·         Always provide some relevance to the current situation


So we’ll start with:

1. Omniscient Narrative
This is revealing backstory by out-and-out telling about a historical incident from a source other than one of the on stage story characters. There are a couple of different approaches to this

·    The News Flash approach – this method involves using a passage from an outside source, such as a letter, email, reference text, news report, etc. to drop backstory information onto the page.
EXAMPLE: think of the opening of the original Star Wars movie where “A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away...” scrolls across the screen

·    The Omniscient Narrator approach – this is where some outside entity simply states what has happened prior to the “here and now” of your story.
EXAMPLE: Think of the first Lord Of The Rings movie that opens with a narrator telling the audience the history of the rings. An author who is a master of this is Susan Elizabeth Phillips. For a great example, read the opening of her book It Had To Be You (This link will take you to the book on Amazon and you can use the Look Inside feature to read the opening: http://amzn.to/1TksuyL). She opens in Omniscient Narrator and about halfway through the third page seamlessly slips into third person POV.

2. Flashbacks

These are sections of backstory, told in present tense as if they are happening now.  They can be quite effective if used properly, but use them sparingly and keep them tight.  Flashbacks tend to take the reader away from the current action of the story.  If you run them on for too long you risk causing the reader to temporarily lose the thread of your story.  When using a flashback, always provide some relevance to the current situation. 

EXAMPLE: The Fugitive The movie opens with the police arriving at the murder scene, then we have a series of scenes where we juxtapose backstory events - scenes of Dr. Kimble and his wife at the party  and immediately after - with ‘here and now’ scenes of  Dr. Kimble’s arrest and trial.

A subset of the Flashback is the Frame Story. This is a that starts after the main story action is complete, and then proceeds to tell the rest of the story as one long flashback, with perhaps a short wrap-up at the end. 

Why would you want to employ a frame story?  There are several reasons.  A couple are:

4  To show dual perspectives - the protagonist as he’s experiencing the story events and also as he's reflecting on them afterwards

4  To pose a story question through some dramatic event that you then explain throughout the rest of the book.
EXAMPLE: Think of the movies Titanic, Ever After and Mrs. Winterbourne



3. Prologues

This can be a hot button topic among writers.  Some love them, some hate them.  So, how do you decide if you should use a prologue?  A prologue must provide essential information for the reader to know before the here and now of your actual story.  It should recount a significant event which is important for the reader to experience in real time with the character.  But make certain the information is essential to have up front.   If you use a prologue, your story will in effect have two starting points and you will need to develop two very strong opening hooks to draw your reader in.

Where a flashback often serves to answer a question raised earlier in the story, a prologue must raise questions that pulls the reader forward to search for answers. To make it work, it should be vivid and involving – a mini-story of sorts. And you should construct it in such a way that it raises story questions for the reader that propels her farther into the story to find the answer.

EXAMPLE: Pirates Of The Caribbean – the movie opens with the scene of Elizabeth and Will as children meeting for the first time. This scene accomplished several things, but in my estimation there was one very important point it made that most viewers probably weren’t consciously  aware of.  It grounded them in the fact that this was Elizabeth and Will’s story, not the more flamboyant Jack Sparrow’s.

4. Introspection
This is probably the most commonly used form of weaving in backstory.  It involves having a character think about some past event that parallels or contrasts the current situation.   

There are two ways to employ introspection

  • Reminiscing-- Where a character thinks about past events he himself is familiar with
  • Deduction-- Where a character puts together various bit and pieces of things he has observed to reach some sort of conclusion about another character’s past 
EXAMPLE – In the movie What Women Want the Mel Gibson character has acquired the ability to “hear” what women are thinking. You get some sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant snippets of various characters’ backstory by having him eavesdrop on their thoughts.

5. Dialogue

There are several ways to use dialogue to reveal backstory

·           Third party Revelation - This is probably the most commonly employed method.  One character reminisces about something in another character’s past to a third party

·           The Side Kick - The protagonist himself confides bits of backstory, either directly or through implication, to someone else

·           Situation Update - A rookie or other person ‘outside the loop’ comes into a situation and is briefed by those in the know.  EXAMPLE: The Closer often opened with someone updating Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson on what they know about the crime

Make certain the backstory-revealing-dialogue flows naturally from the characters and the current situation.  Take care to avoid the infamous  As you know, Jane” scenario where one character is relating something to another character that they obviously both already know and have no logical reason to discuss other than to inform the reader.  Backstory through dialogue is most effective when it both reveals the past and adds to the present situation.


6. Implication
There are 2 ways you can use implication to weave in hints about backstory.

·         Self Implication - You can hint at backstory from the way a character reacts to a particular stimulus. 
For instance, if a woman flinches whenever a particular character enters the same room, your reader immediately suspects there is some dark, perhaps abusive history between the two.

·         Third Party Implication - This is actually the flip side of Self-Implication.  It’s where you hint at a particular character’s backstory based on the way other characters react to him/her

Using implication requires a deft touch - too subtle and your reader may miss the cues, too heavy-handed and you risk making the reader feel spoon-fed.  However, when done well, it allows the reader to deduce information about the character’s backstory. And it provides an impetus for the reader to keep reading to see if she has guessed correctly 


7.  Description

Personal Description - You can subtly weave in backstory through a character’s physical description.  Calluses or the lack thereof might indicate a certain kind of lifestyle.  Scars, limps, nervous habits can all hint at events in his past. 

Environment Description - The things they surround themselves with can also be telling.

·         If you want to show that your character is an avid traveler - surround him with exotic souvenirs or maps and charts

·         Is she well educated - scatter books and such around her lodgings

·         Has she recently experienced a financial downturn - have her wear expensive but outdated or faded clothing .


When using description to convey backstory, avoid resorting to stereotypes if possible, try to come up with fresh ways to illustrate your point.  But again, this is a more subtle way of imparting backstory and it allows the reader the fun of drawing their own conclusions rather than spoon feeding all the information.

So there you have it, seven methods to weave in your backstory.

Remember

·         Provide background information only when it is absolutely necessary to further the action and development of your story’s current situation.  In other words, it should answer a crying need for the reader to know this information at this point in time.

·         Include only the bits and pieces necessary to keep the reader with you.  You want to trickle the information in rather than deluge the reader. 

Keeping these two points in mind will help you maintain the fast pace and page turning quality in your story that keeps your readers coming back for more.
Let's talk about the challenges of using backstory wisely and yet, how much is too much, how little is too little, when and where to use it.
Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for a copy of The Holiday Courtship.

Winnie Griggs 
Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace
~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.
Her Holiday Family
, Nov 2014

Second Chance Hero, May 2015

Journeys Of The Heart, July 2015
The Holiday Courtship, Dec 2015
http://www.winniegriggs.com/

He Wanted A Wife by Christmas... 

As Christmas approaches, Hank Chandler is determined to find a wife to mother his sister's orphaned children. When schoolteacher Janell Whitman offers to help him with his niece and nephew, she seems to be the perfect match—but she won't accept his proposal. Instead, she insists she'll find him another bride before the holidays. 

Janell moved to Turnabout, Texas, to put her past behind her and focus on her future—one that doesn't include marriage. But while she plays matchmaker and cares for Hank's children, she loses her heart to the two youngsters…and their adoptive father. If Janell reveals her secrets to Hank, will he still want her to be his Christmas bride? The Holiday Courtship by Winnie Griggs

71 comments:

Marianne Barkman said...

Welcome back to Seekerville, Winnie. I'll be back later to answer your question about backstory, but wanted to mention that a doctor in Canada has a theory that I believe is true that though the mind can not remember, the body remembers every trauma from conception on. After all, God made trees so we could tell about its life history, why wouldn't He build the same thing into His crowning creation as well?
My mind was about blown away by this thought. As a reader, I love to hear about authors thoughts. I'd love to be entered into the draw for a free book of yours.
Thanks, too, Mary. Have a great Wednesday

Helen Gray said...

All these methods are good, and different stories require different combinations.

Thanks for the excellent information.

The coffee pot is brewing.

Trixi said...

Hi Winnie!! I love your comment about a backstory being like seasoning your favorite food....putting it that way, I can relate :-) Too much of something is never good in my opinion. I like a nice balance of "flavorings" when I read. Kind of like salt too, or at least that's what came to mind as I read that portion of your post.

As I've said before, I do so love a well-balanced story. I think one of my favorite parts is when an author includes the characters backstories. It gives them the depth I so crave & can explain why they are the way they are or why they react to certain situations the way they do. I certainly can sympathize or relate with them more. Makes them almost real to me :-)I've met my share of character friends that stick with me a while!

You authors have a tough job! I'm glad it's you and not me, but I'm SO appreciative of all your hard work. To bring us stories to inspire, entertain, enjoy, & pass on to others who'd enjoy them just as much. Thanks for all you do to keep this reader coming back for more!!

Please do enter me in to win a copy of "The Holiday Courtship". Sounds like a delightful Christmas story full of hilarity....trying to find Hank a different bride...I can just see how THAT'S going to work out...haha! You wet my whistle with this one, Winnie!

Mary Preston said...

I am a reader. I do enjoy it when the back story unfolds gradually rather than a huge dump of information.

Please count me in for "The Holiday Courtship" thank you.

Jackie said...

Hi Winnie,

It's a tricky thing to sprinkle backstory into the real story. I'm so glad I have crit partners to help.

Thanks for sharing!

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, WINNIE! This is a YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY keeper post! Thank you! What you do, though, if your editor wants the reader to know "I'm your father" in the FIRST chapter??? LOL!

I'm printing this post out right now and putting in my "Start to Finish" 3-ring binder!

Cindy W. said...

I love it when an author 'sprinkles' back story throughout their novel. If too much is offered too soon, I believe it takes a little of the 'mystic' away from the character and story. Thank you for the great post today Winnie.

I would love to be entered into your giveaway.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

DebH said...

Hi Winnie
I think this is an AWESOME tutorial on how to weave backstory into our work. THANK YOU!!! Going to bookmark this one for certain. I especially like the reminder that if the info isn't absolutely necessary to propel the story forward, kill it. I tend to read between the lines in stories and it does dull the thrill when something gets mentioned and I think it's important to the characters, but then nothing further is done with that information.

Thanks again. I always learn so much from coming to Seekerville. Yay Seekerville!!

Cara Lynn James said...

Thanks for all the information, Winnie. Recently I read a book (well, part of a book) where the backstory was loaded on right at the beginning of the story. It went from a short part in the present right into backstory. The writer was famous so I guess she could get away with it, but it wasn't very interesting.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Hello, My "Her Holiday Family 2014" buddy!!!!!

WINNIE GRIGGS.... This isn't a post, it's a full-fledged seminar in how to weave backstory into a book without weighing it down, to follow the emotion...

This is marvelous, and you do it so beautifully in your historicals.

Reading authors like you and Cheryl St. John and Janet Dean and the Amazing and Prolific Mary Connealy inspired me to jump into writing historicals, and I love it. There's a freedom in writing things 120 years after the fact that makes it just plain fun!

Thank you for this wonderful post, but also for the wisdom you share so freely. You rock this author gig, Winnie.

Jill Weatherholt said...

One of my favorite stages in the writing process is developing the backstory of my characters, but as you said, sprinkling in the perfect amounts can be tricky.
I love how you compared backstory to seasoning your food. I LOVE cayenne pepper. I put it on everything. The other morning, as I was rushing to get ready for work, I accidentally turned the dial to the large holes on the bottle. I ended up with 5x more pepper on my hard boiled eggs. Man! I was perspiring during my entire commute. Just like backstory, a sprinkle of cayenne goes a long way.
Often I'll slip in backstory through dialogue, but I like your suggestion of environment description. Great stuff, Winnie!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Glynna brought up a great point. We're not always free to pursue the story the way we might have first envisioned it.... but I think we can turn that to our advantage and have things revealed through conversation.

So in Glynna's example, the father reveals himself... and then you have the perfect opportunity to reveal some things through heated conversation, or the child's angst pushing old buttons, or a total blow-up scene where emotions explode then slowly simmer back down.

And then more can be revealed through dialogue of friend to friend or parent to child or grandparent to parent...

So the back story is filtering in, but in the present.

Jeanne T said...

Wow, Winnie, you went deep. I appreciate your suggestions for different ways to use back story. I had an author tell me it's best to use back story breadcrumbs. Not too many, and sprinkled in sparingly. That visual has always stuck with me. I find myself using introspection and dialogue the most often. I'll have to try some of the other ways you mention. :)

Wilani Wahl said...

Winnie, Thank you for this timely post. The novel (my first) that I finished in Sept needs a lot of work. I think a lot of the beginning is really back story. I haven't quite known how to go about fixing it. This will give me a starting point, so thank you.

I would love to win a copy of your book.

Preslaysa Williams said...

Hi Winnie! Great post, I'm taking notes on this one. Backstory is so tough to weave in seamlessly. It really is an art more than a science. I loved your point about using the character's environment to weave in backstory. I tend to use dialogue when weaving in backstory. However, I recently tried my hand at using the character's environment, and it was a nice change. Challenging to write, but it added some good internal tension in the scene.

Connie Queen said...

THANK YOU WINNIE! You answered a big question for me. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had feedback from a contest judge that asked me if my story was a frame story. What??? I kept wondering if it was a typo or something. I'd never heard the expression. I got busy w/Thanksgiving and never looked it up or asked anyone from Seekerville.

I'll be glad to answer now. Yes, my story is a frame story.

LOL. Thanks so for much for this post. You'll make me consider how I handle backstory a lot more now.

Cindy K. Green said...

Such great help, Winnie! I'm in the process of writing a book with a lot of backstory which is important to the present. I've been struggling with inserting that backstory. This gives me a lot to contemplate as I revise. Thanks!

Just Commonly said...

Hi Winnie. Nice to meet you. This is such a great and informative post. As a reader, backstory is crucial for me to understand a character in depth. Sometimes it's done beautifully, sprinkled in in small doses or a flashback. Few times I've read that an overabundance of the backstory turning into the main story. Then there are ones that don't include or have a one liner that neither gives me the satisfaction of fully understanding these characters.
I really enjoyed reading the various ways a writer can insert a character's backstory.

Thank you and I would love to be included in the drawing for your book.

Myra Johnson said...

Welcome back, Winnie! Another post packed with great advice--thank you! Just started work on a new project and contemplating how and when my characters' backstory will come to light, so this post is very timely.

CatMom said...

Welcome Winnie! Thank you for this super-informative post today - - another one that I really needed RIGHT NOW! :) In my WIP, I'm trying not to reveal too much too early about my heroine's traumatic past, so your post is a huge help in reminding me of subtle ways to gently weave in her backstory.
Congrats on your newest release - - love that cover!
Blessings, Patti Jo

Kathryn Barker said...

Thank you, Winnie! Wonderful post...one I'll be printing off to keep handy!

Creating backstories for characters is part of the joy of writing for me, but sprinkling it into the novel without losing the flow has proved challenging! Thanks again for all these great tips!

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for the great post, Winnie. I've had to learn to stuff all of a character's backstory into a treasure chest, determine how much of it is essential to the story and slip those snippets in so they educate but don't overwhelm a reader. Not an easy task, which is why your list is so helpful.

ohiohomeschool said...

Thank you. I am a huge fan of your books. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on backstory. I love it went an author does this well.
Thank you
Becky
PS I would love to be in the drawing for your book.

Barbara Scott said...

Winnie, I agree with Ruthy. Your post on backstory could be an entire workshop! It definitely goes in my keeper file.

Even experienced writers need to be ruthless in cutting out backstory that serves no purpose. It's especially deadly to start a novel with the entire history of a character. My motto? Cut to the chase in the first scene. As the reader, I want to follow those breadcrumbs that keep me turning the pages until that "ah-ha" moment.

Please include me in your drawing. I LOVE historical romances.

Janet Dean said...

Winnie, welcome back! This is a fantastic explanation of ways to weave in backstory without slowing the pace! A keeper post! You're a wonderful writer and teacher. Thank you!

I added the hero's backstory earlier in my January release The Bounty Hunter's Redemption than I normally would. The reason: my hero Nate is taking actions that will harm the heroine Carly. The reader needed to know Nate's motivation so they understand his actions and don't resent him.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, you write historical novels beautifully. How fun that you have both worlds under your fingertips!

Janet

Tina Radcliffe said...

Good morning, Winnie. I read this last night and had to mull it over before I could comment.

You hurt my brain.

Brilliant information.

Really, whenever you come to Seekerville, it's a workshop and I don't know if folks really appreciate that.

They would pay $$$$ for a class on this.

Thank you so much.


I just discovered Dirty Chai (Chai with Expresso) so am sharing.

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Marianne, what an interesting theory - thanks for sharing it with us this morning!

Hi Helen - so true. In fact, a book will normally include more than one of these methods as the story progresses

Winnie Griggs said...

Hello Trixi, thanks for stopping by this morning. And I'm so glad the post resonated with you.

Hi Mary. I agree - a gradual unfolding of backstory is almost always a better approach than inserting dense chunks of it

Winnie Griggs said...

Hello Jackie - having good crit partners is a true blessing, isn't it? I'd be lost without mine!

LOL Glynna, we must keep those editors happy! The key when you're in that position, as you know, is to reveal it as unobtrusively as possible.

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Cindy - I agree. Part of the fun as a reader is to take in the teasers and try to guess what's at the heart of it!

Hello Deb - you're quite welcome! I'm so glad you found value in the post.

Jan Drexler said...

Hi Winnie!

I love this post. You've put into words what I couldn't. I'm printing this out to refer to the next time someone asks me about how to do backstory - and I'll keep the link handy for the next time I'm judging a contest.

I've also found an outlet for all that delicious research I've done into my character's backstory - it's excellent fodder for blog posts when it's time to market the book! Once the readers have been introduced to my characters, they're ready to know more about them. A blog post can share the backstory without interrupting the narrative of the book.

Thanks!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Cindy K Green! Merry Christmas. Good to see you in Seekerville. Whatcha been up to??

Mary Connealy said...

GOOD MORNING WINNIE!
I'm slow getting over here this morning.

I LOVE THIS POST!

Seriously it is really meaty. I'm saving this one.

Lyndee H said...

Hi Winnie,
Lots of meat in this post. I'll be rereading it. Back story can be tricky. I used to keep too much from the reader because I wanted to avoid back story overload. I've had to practice to get it right. It can be a delicate dance.

Love the new cover. Congrats!

Rose said...

Winnie,

Great information.

AND your cover is lovely!

Laura Conner Kestner said...

Thank you, Winnie! I definitely have trouble with "information dumping" and have struggled with just how to correct it. I've used dialogue to disseminate backstory info, with some success, but after reading this post I realize there are oh so many other ways to make it more balanced and natural. I'm especially excited about using more personal descriptions and environment descriptions. Thanks again for such an interesting post!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Janet, thank you! I'm having so much fun moving time back a century and a half, that it should be illegal....

I brought Christmas cookies!!!!!

If we're going to chat around the hearth, cookies are a good way to do it.

Of course I brought them in a tin. :)

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Cara Lynn. I always think, if a lot of backstory is needed that early on, the writer should just bite the bullet and write a prologue.

Hello Ruthie!! Thanks for all the nice words.

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, thanks for the cookies. No Press and Seal wrap for us historical writers! :-)

Janet

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Jill. Developing backstory is my favorite part too. I'm usually guilty of front loading a lot of it in my first draft and then having to rebalance it as I edit. And Yikes on your cayenne pepper incident!

Hi Jeanne. Ooooh, I like the breadcrumbs image, leaving a trail for the reader to follow.

Missy Tippens said...

What a great post, packed full of information! Winnie, we're so glad to have you back! You've given me a lot to think about and ways to try to improve so I'm not dumping so much info at once. (I tend to do this on the first draft--either that for leave out way too much). :)

Mary Connealy said...

Winnie I know EXACTLY what you mean about frontloading the backstory.

Then you've got to cut it AND hope you don't cut too much and hope you don't forget to put BACK IN the stuff you cut.

That used to hurt me, to have to cut so many words, after all that work.

But now I look at it as needed. My own process.

Some people 'interview' their characters. Some people create spread sheets of all their characters family, eye color, upbringing, favorite pet, on and on, all good stuff, but that's a different authors process.

I write all that backstory, then I cut and save it in a separate file.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Do you really, Connealy. That is interesting.

I use sidekicks mostly. The Donkey to Shrek thing works well.

Mary to Ruthy

Betty to Wilma

Denozzo to Gibbs

Sherida Stewart said...

Winnie, thanks for a post stuffed with keeper/reread and study information.

From contest critiques, I know I have a backstory problem. I think I want to get all that information out to the reader so they understand my characters. But I'm learning to sprinkle it in....to let the reader be surprised.

I love the way you outlined HOW to do the seasoning with seven possible ways.

And this thought I will keep by my computer: What you must consider, and consider ruthlessly, is whether the information is essential for the reader to know in order to make sense of your character motivations and move your plot forward.

Only the essential information when absolutely necessary. That will make the story a journey of discovery for the reader. Thanks for the great tips, Winnie!

Rhonda Starnes said...

Thanks for all the great information Winnie! I'll be bookmarking this post.

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Wilani - You're quite welcome - I'm glad you think my post is going to give you some help with your manuscript.

Hello Preslaysa - yes, environment is one of the more subtle ways to weave in backstory but it can also be very effective if done properly. And it sounds like you have it figured out!

Julie Lessman said...

WINNIE!!! OH. MY. GOSH!!! Talk about a workshop in a blog, my friend, this is AWESOME stuff, girlfriend, and truly could be a workshop at ACFW or elsewhere, it's that good!!

You said: "Prologues. This can be a hot button topic among writers. Some love them, some hate them. So, how do you decide if you should use a prologue?"

Oh, man, I was a prologue hater BIG TIME as a reader -- didn't like a book to have them because I just wanted to dive right in the story already, you know? Which, ironically, is why I always wrote the prologue AFTER the book was written in the books where I have prologues. :) Somehow, the books felt incomplete to me, almost begging for a prologue. So I complied.

So my answer as to when I would write a prologue, is when I'm done with the book but something seems missing, so I go back in and figure out what it is, and if I can solve it with a prologue, I do.

Great post, Winnie!

Hugs,
Julie

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Connie - LOL so glad I answered a question for you. As I noted in my post, some of my favorite movies employ the frame story technique.

Hi Cindy - you're quire welcome and I'm glad this post was timely for you! :)

Winnie Griggs said...

Just Commonly - Hello and thanks for stopping by. It's always good to get a reader's perspective on these matters of craft.

Hi Myra. Thanks! Glad you found some takeaways in the post.

Winnie Griggs said...

Hello Patti Jo. So glad the post was timely for you and thanks sooooo much for those nice words about my cover.

Hi Kathryn - you're quite welcome and I'm glad I could provide a few insights you can use.

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Kelli! I love your image of putting all the backstory nuggets in a treasure chest and then sharing them sparingly.

Becky - Thank you so, so much for those kind words about my books!

Winnie Griggs said...

Barbara - I think 'cut to the chase is a very fine motto! :)

Hi Janet. That's the thing about guidelines as opposed to 'rules', guidelines are flexible to fit the needs of the story!

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Tina. Sorry I made your head hurt LOL. And thank you ma'am for the kind words.

Jan - what a fabulous idea for saving 'unused' backstory elements to put in blog posts and website content. I'll have to remember that...

Winnie Griggs said...

Hello Mary! Thanks, glad you enjoyed the post.

Lyndee, you're right, it is most definitely a delicate dance, and a balancing act to boot!

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Rose - so glad you liked both the post and my cover :)

Hello Missy. Thanks - it's always such fun visiting with you folks at Seekerville!

Kav said...

This is just fabulous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I've been reading it in bits all day (been that kind of a day!) but it's actually been great to read it that way because it gave me the opportunity to really think about each point. This is such a HUGE help to me and I can't thank you enough taking the time to lay this all out. I wear the dubious crown of Backstory Queen so this will be a lifeline for sure.

Chill N said...

Winnie this is an outstanding post! I feel like I've just attended a workshop -- and I mean that in a good way. I'll be printing it out so I can highlight certain things and then put it in my editing binder. I appreciate the examples. So in case I don't get back in time to discuss backstory, just know I'm sending a huge thank you :-)

That cover is wonderful.

Nancy C

Winnie Griggs said...

Mary - LOL I used to do the same thing. In fct I wrote a prologue for each of my first five novels, then ended up throwing all but one of them out. It as like I had to really get it down on the page before I understood it.

Hi Sherida, So glad you found the post helpful. And that quote that spoke so strongly to you is the key element to using backstory effectively

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Rhonda - you're quite welcome and thanks for stopping by.

Julie - LOL, actually this post was taken from the speaker notes I use for my backstory workshop. I may just pitch it to ACFW this year. Interesting that you write prologues AFTER the first draft - it just goes to show how each author has their own approach to writing.

Winnie Griggs said...

Kav - LOL, love your enthusiasm! And so glad you found so much to help you in the post.

Chill N - Thanks so much for the kind words about both the post and the book cover :)

Sandy Smith said...

Winnie, this is a very useful post. Great tips on how to use backstory. I think of it a little bit like putting a puzzle together. Pieces have to fit in just the right places.

Please put me in the drawing for The Holiday Courtship.

As it happens, right now I am reading Her Holiday Family. I love it. I can see your use of backstory in the right places in this book.

(Next in my TBR list is Ruthy's Her Holiday Family. Have to read them both :)

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Sandy! Glad you're enjoying Her Holiday Family. And Ruthy and I had some fun with our twin titles last year :)

jubileewriter said...

Winnie,
This is the most concise and easy to understand explanation of sprinkilg backstory I have read in a while. I am going to save this post and refer to it when I get stuck on the best way to dissiminate some key backstory. I know these things but I always find myself needing to be reminded of the how-to when I'm stressed out and my mind has shut down. Thanks for the great tips.Put me in the drawing.

Cindy Huff

Deanna Stevens said...

Turnabout, Texas.. I've found in Texas you will find towns with interesting names. I like that one! toss me into the drawing please..

Sharee Stover said...

Sorry, I'm a day late on this. I printed the information because it's sooo good! Thank you Winnie! Backstory is a concept I've been working through in my story so this is especially helpful. Please toss me into the hat for the drawing...if I'm not too late.

Mary Lawson said...

Thank you for the information. It has me rethinking my WIP. I will be filing this for future writings.

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Cindy. You're quite welcome, and I'm so glad these notes resonated with you.

Hi Deanna. I always have fun naming the fictional towns in my story, and they usually have a symbolic meaning for me.

Winnie Griggs said...

Hi Sharee - glad to hear this was a timely post for you, and you are most definitely in time for the drawing!

Hello Mary - You're quite welcome, glad to be of service :)

Patricia W said...

Great post. So informative. Keeping this one for my writing and my editing.

Patricia W said...

Great post. So informative. Keeping this one for my writing and my editing.