Monday, September 5, 2011

My scary new idea

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a great weekend. It was a 3-day weekend to celebrate Labor Day here in the States. While I love a long weekend, it's also bittersweet since Labor Day represents the (un)official end of summer, rings in the "back to school" atmosphere, and is the last real holiday some of us will get until Thanksgiving.

On Sunday, I brewed the fancy coffee and set up shop in my office. I tried to ignore my ancient (read: broken) desk and hard-as-a-rock chair and focused instead on my notes and my story.

About 30 minutes into writing, a wild and crazy idea hit me. Well, wild and crazy for me.

You see, I'm still very much a newbie writer. I struggle with character development, story arcs, world building, and plot points. So when the idea of writing in both past and present tense popped into my head, I tried to push it down. Alas, it was too late. The idea grew legs and before long, I shut down the computer and started furiously scribbling notes in two columns on a sheet of paper, one for Past Events and one for Present Events. I started plotting out how I could incorporate past into the narrative of the present, which needed to happen first to make the most sense, and what past events were suddenly not necessary.

I'm still not sold on this idea. I still call myself a new writer even though I have two books done. This feels like I'm jumping into the deep end of the Real Writer's Pool hoping I can doggy paddle with the best of them.

And, because I'm kind of insane, I'm also trying my hardest to do this book in Scrivener even though I have the older version. I recently read Justine Larbalestier's amazing blog explaining how she wrote Liar in Scrivener and I was sold. I knew I had to give this software program another shot.

So there you go. I'm playing around with a totally foreign (to me) novel concept AND am trying it out on Software Not Named Word. le gasp

If anyone has read a blog or better yet--a book!--that uses this technique of dropping in past events/backstory within the actual "current" events, please let me know. I realize this sounds kind of silly since just about every book has some element of backstory, but specifically, I'm looking for GOOD examples. I keep thinking back to The Intern's two blog posts on How Books Work: The Hunger Games (parts 1 and 2). I think the Hunger Games books are a great example of when and how to use backstory, though right now I'm envisioning my backstory sections to be larger, almost like chapters.

How do you incorporate backstory in your writing? 


  1. How exciting to have a new idea! I hope it works out for you!

    With backstory, I write the entire story by hand, then drop tiny hints of that into the main narrative. I knew the whole thing, but little details worked really well to cement characteristics and character relationships. I suppose it depends on how important that back story is. If it defines a character's entire being, you'll probably want to go into more detail. If it's just explaining why Character A and Character B both drink coffee on the train on Monday mornings, a single sentence will probably do just fine :)

  2. I honestly don't think about backstory. I just let the characters talk about it when they want to.

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  4. *Not sure what happened with my first posting attempt :)

    I tend to agree with Sarah - backstory only gets into the novel if it makes sense for my characters to reveal it.

    That said, sometimes backstory is interesting enough to merit a short story or extended character sketch of its own. But I keep that separate from my true WIP.

  5. I suck at the backstory stuff, so I'm no help there. But I love how excited you are about your new idea!

    I wish I had a Mac so I could use Scrivener. The Windows version is STILL in beta (it was in beta this time last year too) and is so buggy I can't use it.

  6. You've seen my posts on backstory, so I won't go into that again, but I think this is a great idea for teaching yourself about it. As you mentioned, you've already noticed parts of previous events that aren't really going to be necessary for the story. I see some intuitive understanding of backstory's function in that observation. You might still consider yourself a 'new writer', but if you can grasp backstory in only your third book you're ahead of the game.

  7. I'm just starting out writing myself, so my advice might not be any good... but I tend to use a lot of backstory. I think one of the tricks is to write all the back story you want in the first draft, then weed out everything you don't need, and then find a way to break that backstory into small chunks that get spread out over the chapter. At least that's what I am trying to do.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Glad to meet a fellow campaigner.

  8. I won't lie to you... reading that Margo thinks I'm demonstrating "intuitive understanding" is kind of a daymaker. Not kidding. I'm smiling right now. :)

    I agree--backstory is only helpful if it serves a good purpose to the plot or character development. I can tell you all about my MC's shopping trip last week, but if it means nothing to the story, chances are I haven't thought about it, let alone will tell you about it.

    I promise to blog more about my idea and what I'm characterizing as backstory as soon as I have a better idea of where I want the story to start and then can backfill on pertinent info.

    Thank you! As usual, the comments here are always so helpful. And thanks for stopping by, new campaigner buddies!

  9. 'The Blasphemer' includes chapters of backstory. It's more than 'flashbacks' at any rate. Are you looking to have two characters one past and one present, or are you looking to have more of a remembrance of one character?


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