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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Class Three Epiphany



It was my turn to read again.  I knew my story wasn’t moving right, knew I hadn’t nailed it. But, since I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, I shrugged and printed my pages to pass out to my classmates.

To their credit, they hammered me on all my unnecessary telling details.  The problem with the first couple of chapters of Novel #3?  Too much backstory.  In truth, that’s not a surprise to me…it’s been my bugaboo for a while now.  I chopped over 20 pages from the beginning of my last book. But still, even hearing what I expected, I struggled.  How do I get my characters to the right place in the story without sharing all the particulars?

It took the workshop leader’s words to spell it out for me.

“Write in real time,” she said.  “Write in scene.”

Holy Smokes.  On Tuesday, July 9, 2013 a huge lightning bolt of epiphany struck southeastern Massachusetts.
  
Finally, I got it.

If my character is in a room, I need to write about what’s going on in the room, not what happened four months ago that led him to the room. If two characters don’t get along, it’s Okay to leave the reader wondering what caused the ill will.  The reason for their argument will come out in due course, but in the meantime, it is enough that the reader knows they quarreled.  Too much bla, bla, bla, slows the thing down.

Sorry to say, I am the queen of bla, bla, bla.

A very good writer once said to me, “Sometimes we write backstory in order to learn the whole story ourselves.  But the reader doesn’t need to know that much.” 

I learned something else last week.  Do you know the term “Killing our babies?” 

I’m wielding the proverbial sword.  Anything that doesn't move the action forward?  Gone.  So far, more than 1,800 words (babies) have lost their lives in my charge toward novel clarity.  Things are getting ugly folks.  I expect a lot more bloodshed.

But the story?  Well, fingers crossed.  It's starting to MOVE!

Jordan McCollum has some great tips on conquering backstory here.  

10 comments:

Words A Day said...

thats the best way i've heard it described - will be passing it on!:)

mshatch said...

I have been known to have too much backstory cluttering up my beginnings as well. Good luck cutting; it isn't easy!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Gotta love those epiphanies! I've had a few myself this last year. I've tossed out huge portions during rewrite (not backstory but other scenes that just didn't really move the story properly) and have written scenes that are so much more dynamic. At least, I sure hope they are. ;)

Catherine A. Winn said...

I know what you are talking about--through trial and error, I learned that back story was a way to rush into my story to start where I wanted to start. I came to the conclusion that if it is so important to mention, maybe some of the back story (just a small part) could be included in the book either as a scene or mentioned during a brief conversation. In other words, revealed strategically. The rest of the backstory could just be in my mind, the reader didn't need or want to know it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sometimes it's just a simple line that finally rings the bell. Bet you're excited to work on it now!

Robin said...

People can say things ten different ways. Until someone says it in a way that you can UNDERSTAND it, it has no meaning for you. I totally get the advice that was given to you. I think I also struggle with Blah Blah Blah, so your epiphany is helping not just you, but I heard it, too. THANK YOU.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

OH YES!
I always write a lot of backstory in the first draft -- because I need to know it.

Then I take it all out later! Or at least move it to a better spot.

Bish Denham said...

I have often cut the first two chapters to get to the beginning! But it can be so hard at times. Keep at it, you can always add words later if you need to.

And... I have a little something for you on my blog!

Anne Gallagher said...

Yay! Yeah, I agree, you can hear things all the time, but until someone says it in a way you understand, it's doesn't register.

Glad it's going well for you.

And I guess I've got to cut some stuff from my stories, huh?

Carol Kilgore said...

Sounds like you learned to play Whack a Word. Good job!

Happy Weekend :)