As a novice novel writer, every day I discover how hard it is to weave an engaging story. For years I’ve enjoyed curling up with a book, ignorant of the work involved in good storytelling. I now savor the masterful way Robert B. Parker slides in a quick fact about Boston in his Spenser series novels without slowing down the story. Or how an 11-year-old snapshot stuck on a refrigerator door illustrates the pain of loss for a young wife and mother in Jodi Picoult’s novel A Change of Heart. I’m always impressed with the way Janet Evanovich reintroduces reoccurring characters in her Stephanie Plum novels without weighing down the reader with excess facts.

“Creating characters’ backstories before you start writing is crucial,” says Rachel Ballon author of Breathing Life Into Your Characters, “because you’ll want to determine each one’s past experiences and the repercussions these experiences will have on your story before you begin.” I’m really good at this part. I write page after page of character history. With great ease, my protagonist’s fun facts, broken dreams and unresolved conflicts pour out of my fingertips.

It’s gets a bit trickier when I have to trim my endless “tell” and trust my readers to get the picture through my “show.” I’ve become pretty successful in building story scaffolding. But once constructed, I’m reluctant to take the support beams off and trust my edifice to it’s own solid foundation.

I’m using all the arrows in my writer’s quiver — dialogue, narration, thoughts, scene setting, description and flashbacks to layer in important facts. I hope to nestle them in throughout the pages, so that the reader feels she’s uncovering tiny treasures along the way, waiting for the payoff – all the facts coming together in a satisfying climax.

Thanks to the patience of my fellow Pageadaywriters, especially Trish, I’ve improved at writing backstory and I’ve even gotten better at knowing when to delete it. Every day, every page, I’m sharpening my writer’s arrows and learning I don’t have to shoot them all at the same time.

Advertisements