The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Was thinking out a certain portion of the backstory of my MC as I was driving around doing errands this morning. I already knew the very basic idea of what happened, but I was working it out in my mind, following the events step by step to see how they came about reasonably and believably in the world of the book. I was doing this because if I ignore or distort the reality of my characters and their world to make something happen, it can mess up the whole ms. Even if what I'm ignoring or distorting happens offstage, before the book even begins, it can still mess it up.

So I was thinking about this piece of backstory, and as I followed it through logically, popping around to check with the different characters involved in it to make sure they were behaving reasonably, I saw that this three-year-old (in story time) event is still very immediate and raw for the MC, and drives him even more than I thought it did.

To me, that says it needs to come into the story somehow. When I just knew the basic idea of this backstory, I covered it in a paragraph or two of narration stuck into the middle of something else. Now I think maybe it needs to come out in this Saharan section as dialog between the MC and the main secondary character, with paragraphs of internal thought by the MC where he adds painful details and thoughts that he wouldn't say out loud. I think this might also lead the secondary character to reveal something of himself, and that the MC is likely to get mad at him.

I looked at an article on flashback-writing, and one of the tips was to always place a flashback after a strong scene. Of course I can immediately think of ten million reasons and situations* where it would be the kiss of death to put a flashback right after a strong scene, but aside from that, it's an interesting idea and something to keep in mind.

I need to approach this backstory/flashback issue very mindfully, or it will get the better of me. I also need to remember: this isn't just about the emotional story; I can use these suckers to pull the reader along by dropping hints but not explaining something till I'm good and ready.

So maybe, in deciding how to handle each piece of backstory/flashback, some things to consider would be:
  • It is just something the reader needs to know in order not to be confused?
  • Does it inform and deepen the story?
  • Does it establish an important emotional point for the reader?
  • Can it provoke conflict, if divulged in dialog, in scene?
  • Will hearing about it drive other characters to act, react, or change?
  • Is there something about it that the main character isn't ready to face till later in the book?
I'm still not satisfied with the pacing of the beginning of Night Road, so that always looms at the back of my mind: You never figured out how to fix this. You fell short. You were unable to solve this writing problem. This dystopian--and probably the swordfighting ms, too--bring the exact same situation around again and drop it at my feet. It's like I'm not allowed to pass over the writing bridge till I can answer a certain question correctly. Only my question isn't "What's the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow," it's "How do you pace and structure a ms with necessarily heavy doses of world-building and backstory?"

*okay, maybe not that many.

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