Monthly Archives: March 2019

Sinking Into The Bog

In my last post (“Inspired to Emulation—or Preparing to Jump“), I talked about The Rule of No Rules, and how reading other writers you admire will provide the best writing advice you will ever receive.

Not long after the post went up, one of my favorite novelists, Adrian McKinty—who writes brilliantly about Northern Ireland during the Troubles from the perspective of a Catholic detective serving in the overwhelmingly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary—posted the following letter on Twitter. He composed it to an aspiring author who had asked his advice on this whole writing business. This is what Adrian wrote in response (the recipient’s name has been removed for the sake of privacy ):

 

 

I’m tempted to end this blog post here, because I couldn’t possibly say anything as perfect, but that would be cheating, or lazy, or both. So instead, I’m going to talk a little about my writing process, and in so doing I ironically intend to prove that Adrian is absolutely right—there are no rules. (Incidentally — for more on Adrian and his truly wonderful books, visit his blog The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.)

I’m currently writing a new novel, and for the sake of this post have been taking note of my revision process, which otherwise would go largely unanalyzed. I make no assertions that my way is the right way—in fact, I would like to begin with a contrarian point, that my way actually is slow, laborious, and not suitable for “mainstream” writers obliged to crank out one or more books a year. I will leave guidance on that front to those entitled to provide it. My way is simply my way, and I hope by discussing it I might help you shed light on your own, for better and/or worse.

Searching for a phrase that might describe my way of revising, I first came up with “descending into the text,” but that seemed so utterly hokey, so sniffily pompous, I discarded it immediately.

Instead, deferring to my recent research on all-things-Ireland, and hoping for a bit of ironic wit to cut through the humbug, I settled on the title above. It’s suggestive of a process of discovering something already there on the page, buried beneath some obscuring element, waiting to be unearthed. Although that does indeed resonate with some of what I mean here, something very different is at play as well. Creation, not just discovery, figures in.

What I discover as I’m writing a given scene or chapter is that the first couple of drafts only descend so far into the emotional, dramatic, and experiential truth of the situation. I sometimes describe the precess as working out a preliminary sketch then gradually, slowly, layering on the color.

Or think of it this way: I get the furniture arranged, I invite everyone in, and listen to the first things that pop into their minds (and out of their mouths) given my initial sense of where things need to go.

This will usually occupy me for a day or two. Often I will tinker with this or that, tightening the prose, trimming away the excess, eliminating repetition, correcting mistakes. Fiddling. Mucking about. Getting acquainted with the material.

Then I descend a little further. I often need time off—overnight will do, usually—to let my unconscious prowl around the situation I’ve invented, to notice what my conscious writer self has overlooked due to being preoccupied with word choice, sentence structure, punctuation, and so on. (William James was referring to this back and forth between conscious and unconscious effort with his bon mot: “We learn to ski in the summer, and learn to swim in the winter.”)

I notice that my characters are, as yet, largely functional—they’re playing their roles, not acting like real people in the situation with quirks, tics, contradictions, dual agendas, bad habits, emotional blind spots, and so on. I need to liberate them from what I want them to do and simply let them behave.

Step one, I imagine their appearance and physical nature more specifically, and look for what I missed so far—the torn pocket on a shirt, mustard stain on a tie, worn heels on the shoes, hair dye, a hand tremor, cologne or perfume. This almost always brings me closer to the character’s emotional and psychological specficity as well.

Step Two, I remind myself of each character’s Objective, Obstacle, and Action: what she wants in the scene, what stands in her way, what she does to overcome the obstacle to achieve her goal. I clarify and intensify the tension, and make sure I’m revealing through conflict, not straight narration.

Due to Donald “Master Don” Maass’s expert advice, I now also ask myself how each character hopes to feel by the end of the scene, and what happens to that hope, that feeling, given what happens. This helps me not only understand each character better, but to distinguish among them—for example, if I have friends or siblings or co-workers in the scene, this is usually where I begin to separate them more clearly in my mind.

Once I have that in hand, if the scene still feels unfinished, I take each character’s perspective and run through the scene from their point of view, then do so with each of the other characters. I listen for what each character would really say given what just happened. each character’s distinct rhythms, their idiosyncratic word choice (more on that below)—most importantly, I imagine more deeply what they would feel and what they would do, letting the dialogue, if any, arise from that.

On the issue of word choice specific to each character: One of the greatest techniques I ever learned in this regard I gernered from Joshua Mohr, another wonderful writer. He suggested setting up a dialogue grid, with each character’s specific or idiosyncratic verbal expressions, from certain words they “hit” particular hard or often, to regional dialect, to favorite curse words, to syntactical peculiarities—e.g., the subjectless sentence (“Going to the dance tongiht?”), the serial interrogatory (“Mrs. Hornby? You know the report you wanted me to write? About Chaucer?”)

If I’m still feeling like I’m not quite there, I remind myself how this scene fits into each character’s general Yearning—their dream of life: the kind of person they want to be, the way of life they hope to live. This scene is a moment in that pursuit—where does that moment fit in the general outline provided by the story, and the story within their lives. If I’ve associated the Yearning with an image, a symbol, or a piece of music, how does that get reflected here?

Similarly, what is holding them back from fulfilling their Yearning—what wounds, weaknesses, limitations, moral flaws are undermining their pursuit of their dream of life. How is all that reflected here?

Sometimes this takes deliberate effort, other times it’s an intuitive plunge into the scene. It may take one day, it may take three—but if I’m not getting it right by then, it’s time to move on.

As I continue into the story, my unconscious will continue providing me little insights—a change in an action, a line of dialogue, a description—and I’ll jot them down and slip them in where they fit, or make notes to myself to return to the scene and write the change in.

This sort of revising-as-I-go is contrary to the advice of many writers, who save this sort of revision for a second pass after they “have the story down.” But I don’t feel I’ve truly got the story down until I do this sort of sinking into each scene. Until then I’m just skimming the surface of events—and is that really the story?

This deeper exploration of each scene often feels like discovery, as though I’m finding what was already there but wasn’t yet aware of. And yet it is also creation, obviously, because I am inventng new details, adding touches I come up with on the fly. The test of truth to any created bit, however, is if it serves the story, rather than feeling jammed in or slapped on for effect. So in truth it is more of a back and forth between creation and discovery, and the bog I’m sinking into is my imagination.

Regardless, this effort typically also prompts me to go to my outline and make changes in the overall story—usually to upcoming scenes, but on occasion for already written scenes as well.

I know this all sounds laborious, and as already noted, it’s time-consuming. I can’t say I recommend it, and I envy those who can work well more rapidly. I’ve tried just plowing ahead, however, hoping to get a “lousy first draft.” Sooner or later it just feels wrong, like I’ve taken a wrong step, or have sold short the real possibilities in the story. I’ve ultimately had to accept that this is simply my process, and as I often tell my students, one of the most important things you will learn as a writer is how you work and coming to trust that.

Now, of course, we all develop bad habits, and shouldn’t allow them to undermine our work in the name of “owning our process.” But in the inevitable calculation of what is the best use of your time, you need to gauge for yourself whether that time is better spent moving ahead with your current way of doing things or better spent breaking down those bad habits, learning new ones, and suffering the inevitable struggles any such change in methods will entail. (Those who have taken the plunge into Scrivener have no doubt insights to share on this trade-off.)

Regardless, we once again return to The Rule of No Rules. You have to find your own way into and out of the bog, as both Adrian and I have advised. Sadly, there are no guarantees—or, as Adrian advised his fledling writer, “It’s just the nature of the beast.” There are simply the stories only you can tell, and that will have to suffice, as it always has.

What parts of your writing process would you change if you knew how, or could risk the readjustment time required? What do you think of Adrian’s advice to his fledgling writer—do you agree? Disagree? Something in between?

By
Source: writerunboxed.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

to plot or not to plot…?

So much has been said and written about this topic, that it is almost fruitless to comment. All you need do is google the topic and you will find countless analyses of the benefits of one or another approach, or of each approach.  But beware, the writer’s subjective preference will often show, once you do this. For example, Kate Forsyth is probably on the side of plotting, as is James Patterson. And the genre chosen by the author to write in, will determine to a great extent, which approach s/he chooses. Fantasy writers and detective story writers will likely employ plotting as the favoured approach. However, not always. Kate Atkinson writes detective stories, but she is also great with character. She seems to bridge the gap between the two categories in a seamless way.

http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/kates-blog/writing-to-plot-or-not
https://writerswrite.co.za/seven-lessons-writers-can-learn-from-james-patterson/

Kate Grenville and many other writers, especially female writers, prefer writing in segments based on vivid characterisation and “zingy” writing. An example of this style of writing is Tirra Lirra By The River by Jessica Anderson (1916-2010). See my post on this blog about this book at:

http://anneskyvington.com.au/tirra-lirra-by-the-river-by-jessica-anderson/

I think that I belong to this latter group more than to the other group. However, I also think that one must adhere to each approach at different times of the writing process.

Kate Atkinson’s Detective Stories

Kate Atkinson’s Books

A balanced summary of the issue by Sulari Gentill can be found at: http://southerlyjournal.com.au/2015/01/29/discovery-through-story-3/

and by The Magic Violinist on  “The Write Practice” at: https://thewritepractice.com/plotters-pantsers/

It almost, but not quite, boils down to “female” versus “male” perspectives. This is not as sexist as it sounds, if taken in the Jungian sense of “eros” versus “ego” and “anima” versus “anima”. That is, we are all made up of two aspects, and we’d be advised to take into account both of these aspects when creating stories.

If you neglect the Apollonian side relating to “the rational, ordered, and self-disciplined aspects of human nature”, you will fall short of the desired end goal. And if you get caught up totally in the “Dionysiac lust and chaos, you might also fail to reach potential. See Wikipedia on this dichotomy of “the struggle between cold Apollonian categorization and Dionysiac lust and chaos”.

It is best, if at all possible, to remain with one foot in both camps, as does British author Kate Atkinson.

That is because both approaches can collaborate, like partners in a successful “marriage of equality” (in its broadest sense), in producing a brilliant work of art.

By Anne Skyvington

Source: anneskyvington.com.au

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Does Every Lead Character Need An Arc?

At a Bouchercon some years ago, Lee Child was part of a panel on characters in thrillers. An audience member asked him a question about character change. “Every character has to have an arc, right?”

“Why?” Child said. “There doesn’t have to be character change. We don’t need no stinkin’ arcs.”

Everybody in the room cracked up. Child went on to explain that he loves Dom Perignon champagne, and he wants it to taste the same each time. And so, too, he wants his Jack Reacher books to offer the same pleasurable experience every time out. Reacher doesn’t change. Reacher does his thing. It’s how he does it that provides the pleasure.

Later on, Michael Connelly was interviewed in a packed room. He talked about his decision at the beginning of the series to have Harry Bosch age chronologically. In each book Bosch is about a year older. And he has varying degrees of inner development. Talk about your arcs! The series is still going strong and it’s a wonder to behold.

So there you have it, a tale of two writers and two approaches, both of which work. They provide different experiences and readers can choose which they like best—or go with both, for variety.

When I teach about character work, I do say that a lead character does not have to change in a fundamental way.  For example, in the film The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble does not become a new man. He does not have to discover his “true self.” What he has to do is grow stronger as he meets extraordinary challenges.

Similarly, Marge Gunderson in Fargo does not change, but shows her inner strength by solving a horrific crime, far beyond what she’s had to deal with before.

So in this kind of thriller, the character is already who he or she needs to be, but gets tested and finds new strength to endure.

A nice wrinkle to this type of story is when the Lead’s strength inspires another character to change. That’s what happens in The Fugitive. Kimble’s relentless search for the killer of his wife turns Sam Gerard from a lawman who “doesn’t care” about the facts of a case, to caring very much indeed.

In Casablanca, you have both kinds of change. Not only does Rick Blaine change radically, from a man who wants to be left alone to one who joins the war effort, but so does the little French captain, Louis.  Rick’s act of self sacrifice at the end inspires Louis to leave Casablanca with Rick, and also fight the Nazis. It is, of course, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

One of the most important questions you can ask at the beginning of your novel is whether the main character will undergo fundamental change or not. If not, then the story is about the character growing stronger.

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

‘How I fell in love with writing’ part 1

Let’s face it – our relationship with writing can be just like one with another human being. Most of the time you’re madly in love with each other, but there are also other occasions where you and writing go weeks without saying a word. Ultimately, it’s worth it – but like all relationships, you need to make time for each other.

Recently we were having so much fun with the idea of writing being the love of your life, that we thought we’d ask what everyone likes to ask happy couples: “How did you first meet?”

And so we put the call out to our wonderful community to let us know (in 100 words or fewer) the story of how your love affair with writing first began. We received hundreds of replies, and in the spirit of creative curiosity, over the coming weeks we’re going to publish a new heart-warming selection of them every Thursday.

So, on that note, here is the first collection of love stories – we hope it inspires and reminds you of why YOU love writing… Enjoy!


At a tender age I was told I wasn’t good enough for You. I was directed to another and handfasted to them for fifty years. I served them faithfully all that time but they discarded me for someone younger. But oh joy! I’ve found You again. Is it too late now that I’m in my twilight years? Can we find the love and fulfilment again?

“Yes,” You say, “it’s our time now and no one can take it away.”
– Anne Tavares


I was five years old. I grabbed a piece of paper and my mother’s red lipstick instead of a pen. I started writing a story about two friends. I remember seeing the imaginary world slowly building up in front of my eyes as I wrote. I didn’t feel butterflies in my stomach, nor did my palms get sweaty. In fact, it was the exact opposite. It felt like a soft hug, like seeing an old friend after very long time, like finally coming home. And from that time, I knew we were meant for each other.
– Tereza Kolková


As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been told I write too much. Teachers pointed out my assignments were too long; they warned me I would struggle with the mountains of homework in high school. They were right, but I keep writing too much anyway. Because there’s something intrinsic about putting pen to paper. Placing your fingers at the keyboard. It’s about making sense of the chaos of your own thoughts, or the world. Understanding the way you feel or what you want. Best of all there’s nobody else there. Just you and the page and the quietness. For me, that kind of escape hatch is priceless.
– Esme Wilmot


I found you in the lonely times. In the birds, the moon and the wind. We told each other stories, just to pass the time. When I was looking for a friend you came to me in rhyme. You were always ahead of me, knowing what comes next. You whispered great adventures to me, ones I rarely told. Slowly we opened up together, daring to be shared. You reveal the deepest parts of me, the sad and the bright. With you I become much more, it is you that holds my light.
– Bree Murphy


Dear Writing,

I don’t know the exact moment I noticed you, but I remember the tingle in my body that wouldn’t stop. I kept coming back to you if only to be near you – to feel the rollercoaster-like anticipation bubble in my stomach. I am drawn to do things for you like bring you coffee. I obsess to touch you and spend time with you. You are my focus, my obsession, the fuel of all my thoughts at the expense of keeping the secret of our affair. Do you love me? Yes or no?

Love,
You Know Who
– Tammy Breitweiser


A day like all the ones before. The heavy eyes. The churning gut. The lump in throat.

Knees under chin on the big rock behind music hall.

Dodging words hurtled by impulsive tongues.

The three o’clock relief.

Then safety. Hand poised over recycled paper. A present. The pencil a masticated mess from nervous teeth.

The pages fresh and clear; but for one, two, three droplets.

Each brush of lead a lightening of bones. A trembling of lips. A bitter comfort.

The paper; a friend. It hears the words and lets them be.

A becoming way for unburdening truths.
– Nicole Jacobsen


I must confess, I’ve always loved you, although you never knew. I felt unworthy of your affection, so I hid in the shadows.

It was tragedy that finally brought us together, me grief stricken, the weight of my cancer diagnosis weighing heavily around my soul. You allowed me to express my feelings without judgement, and later you were my oasis, the place I could escape to. I could enter a different world, away from my pain and fear. I still feel unworthy, but I no longer hide in the shadows. I embrace you my love, my writing.
– Josephine Ripepi


Kindergarten was tough. I couldn’t run fast like the other kids or jump the silver benches. However, one September morning while inspecting our rose bushes I found something special. I put it in an old jar Baba gave me and took it to school.

Mrs Linard made me put it on her desk while we learned to make sentences. Staring at it from across the room, inspiration hit. From a book’s back cover I found the correct spelling and competed my first story: ‘I got my ladybird.’ Putting those words together gave me a thrill I still get today.
– Greg Tantala


My love for writing was prescribed to me by a doctor.

Dr. Seuss.

Growing up hearing stories of the Lorax, Horton and the Cat.

All I wanted to do was grab a pen and do just that.

I haven’t stopped writing, I love it more as I grow.

Dr. Seuss showed me, through writing, the places I can go.
– Markos Hasiotis


It all started about ten years ago when I was nine years old, at school.

During my first creative writing class, our teacher was telling us about how we should use our imagination to write a story about a day at the beach, it intrigued me and as I started writing, it all came flowing in my head like I was living in my own private little world.

It gave me a sense of power as I felt like I could create my own world. That became my escape from reality…
– Hirsha Rewa


We met in darkness. Where there was no hope.
Where fear and regret laid waste to my heart.
You held me close as I slept. Even closer when I was awake.
You squeezed tears from my eyes. Forced the screams from my throat.

Stripped me of light.

And yet, it was you, Death, who showed me the way.
A new purpose amidst despair. One that would not break.
Words to tell your story. My story. Our story.

The day I lost my sweet love was the day I began to fall in love… with writing.
– Karen Liversz


A spell over me it did cast,
A love affair, forever to last.

Magical lands, just above the trees.
Oh please, let it be the Land of Do-As-You-Please.

Climbing higher, we went to the top.
Water! Watch out! It’s Dame Washalot.

His smiling face as round as the moon,
and Ol’ Saucepan Man with his metal spoon.

Down the slide we would go, me,
Fanny, Bess, Dick and of course Jo.

To my folks, forever grateful I will be, for reading me,
The Magic Faraway Tree.
– Robyn Noble


Forsaken first love. My infatuation with writing was buried since high school. I pursued her but she did not reciprocate. We eventually drifted apart.

When mid-life crisis hit, my old flame beckoned mysteriously through the form of a competition in my child’s school. Thought I would flirt with her, with no intention of winning her heart.

While having fun dating nightly with “writing” three weeks consecutively, our passion was revived and love blossomed. My late nights and persistence paid off as I arose triumphant, having stolen her heart and crowned the winner in the school’s short story writing competition!
– Yee Min Koo


Words lifted me out of the open boot of the family station wagon parked on the grass next to the airstrip. Hunched over the handmade book, jagged edged with a red cardboard cover, I wrote the title in lead pencil. ‘The Spring Fairy’ was eight pages of Twinke’s adventures before she and the forest went to sleep at the end of the summer.

My very first manuscript was finished whilst my family looked up at the aviation displays and ate the picnic lunch.

My seven-year-old mind happily glided through another world.

I’ve never landed.
– Melanie Ross


My lover is a mystery to me, still, after all these years. I first met her when I was 12 and she whispered a gentle song into my heart. I’ll never forget the lyrics she implanted into my young, restless mind. So soothing. So encouraging. I beseeched her for more, then she gave me a book. I recall every beautiful passage explaining the true meaning of love,- kind, forgiving, enduring. Although she has no face or name, my lover taunts and excites me with her mystery, which she has taught me is so very, very important, in eternal love.
– Claire Penhallurick


High School for me, as it was for many, a very awkward and confronting time. I struggled making friends and even when I thought I had I felt this unwavering feeling that I was an imposter and that I would be discovered for the fake that I was.

When things felt like they were becoming too much, and the walls felt like they were closing in I found solace in a piece of paper and a pen. I didn’t have to prove myself or be the best or try to fit in. It felt comfortable and real, and me.
– Dominique Bebbington


A friend bought me a journal and suggested I get to know Writing. Initially I started to see Writing briefly and sporadically. Yet as the years went by it grew deeper and longer. I felt I could open up and explore my feelings with Writing. My love of reading encouraged me further, to take the next step with Writing. I signed up for classes to teach me how to be better with Writing. It’s been a long road but we’re still together every day, either exploring our emotions or crafting beautiful new stories.
– Sumi Mahendran


It’s been three years. I know our break was my choosing, but I want you to know that I’ve changed.

Bumping into you again in the home office, I knew I’d let go of something real. How could I throw away all those nights of obsession we spent together through university? My fixation on you gave me a strange confidence fuelled by disinterest in the real world. I miss that. I miss you.

I know it may take a bit of work to get back to how we were before, but if you’re willing, I want to try again.
– Hannah Beazley


Writing and I were introduced to each other by three frenemies, Sleepless Nights, Silent Screams and Torrential Tears. Writing let me know early that he didn’t mind using the medium of letters to God in red pen and tear-crinkled paper. He was a good listener, he never got embarrassed by the frenemies being around, and he helped me find Emotions and locate Reason. I spoke to him of my fears and hopes and he helped me find the words to share them with others too. Then one day, I realised that I couldn’t live without him.
– Naomi Currie


I became entranced by the magic of the written word as a very young child as marvellous stories were read to me. I couldn’t wait to start school as I was told that it was there that I would learn how to write my very own stories. That first day when I walked into the classroom I was horrified to find a bunch of desks each with a ball of playdough on top! Thankfully my first school teacher was quick to recognise my desire and supplied me with “special” paper to practise my stories on. That’s where our affair began.
– Suzie Pybus


I opened an old basket trunk where my journals were stored. I had started at age 13 and dwindled off after I married at 24. I spent weeks reading journal after journal, watching my handwriting change and myself grow. Simple records of daily events gradually changed into descriptions of my thoughts and dreams. When I finished reading them, I realised how good writing had been in keeping my teenage self genuine and how reading the words penned from my own younger hand made me feel so good in the now! Writing is a kind and faithful lover.
– Bec Fletcher


We met as many writers do, enraptured by stories: the words, the sounds and the places they took me. Up the Faraway Tree, hunting tigers burning bright, to Prince Edward Island, and solving mysteries with Trixie Belden. Spelling, play-acting, reading; that’s how we became firm friends. At ten, I learnt to type on a clackety old Remington I found in the garage. My tiny fingers ached from making words appear on the crisp A4. I wrote a weekly family newsletter that even my teasing brothers liked. Glowing with happiness, writing felt like a beautiful hug from my mum.
– Janet Russell


Do voices keep you awake at night?

All shouting louder than the other in a crescendo to be heard.

You toss and turn, pull the blanket up and down, kick it off the bed with hands clasped into fists telling those voices that you’re tired and need rest.

But they want to argue,

“Her eyes are green not blue”

“He has a hook for a hand”.

I was six years old.

Putting pen to pad was to put a silencer on the voices.

These days they speak one at a time, because they know I’m listening.

Love? No, it’s possession.
– Cam Johnson

 

Source: writerscentre.com.au

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask

I’m starting to find that the same dilemmas come up again and again when I talk with a group about online media and marketing.

These are dilemmas that I can’t solve. They boil down to three questions you have to ask yourself—and be able to answer honestly—to find a path that’s your own, not mine.

1. Are you creating primarily for yourself or primarily for an audience?

Almost all of my advice is based on the assumption that you want to entertain, inform, or increase your audience. Not everyone is concerned with this, nor should they be.

If you’re producing work for an audience, it means:

  • playing by at least some rules of the industry
  • caring what others think of your work
  • interacting with your audience and being available to them
  • doing things not for your art, but out of service to your audience
  • putting on a performance, or adopting some kind of persona
  • marketing and being visible

If you’re creating for yourself, it means:

  • the act is worthwhile regardless of who sees your work
  • fulfillment comes from your struggle with the practice, not from distribution or feedback

Of course, you may be creating for both yourself AND an audience. But some artists who believe they are producing work for an audience aren’t willing to make the sacrifices required to do so. Which means there’s another level to this.

Are you:

  • creating for an audience
  • creating for an audience that earns you money

Once money enters the equation, you have to start sacrificing more of what you want, and bend to the demands of the market. (Or find a generous patron or foundation!)

What is it that you truly want out of your creative endeavors? Do you really know?

2. How much of yourself are you going to share? And which part?

Let’s assume you do want an audience (of any size). It necessitates some kind of persona. Deciding not to have a persona (removing yourself from visibility, Pynchon style) is a persona.

You can’t imitate someone else’s persona. You can only be yourself. Some of us think famous people are (or ought to be) aloof and distant, so we imitate aloofness, even when it has nothing to do with our personality.

After I give talks about digital marketing, relationship building, and social media, inevitably one person will come up and say, “I don’t want to be visible online. I just want people to read my stories.”

That’s a rather boring proposition in this day and age.

So you have to ask yourself—even if you’re shy or think you’re boring—what part of yourself are you going to share and put on display? It’s got to be something, so let’s make it interesting. Let’s really dive into the fiction of who you are OR aren’t. Make up something you can believe in, so others can believe in it, too. (That’s what we all want, most desperately. Meaning.)

3. What is your killer medium?

For me (personally), it’s not the book form. It’s the workshop or the conference keynote. It’s the ability to answer any question thrown at me. It’s my desire to be of service in a personalized way.

Speaking about writers specifically, the book is often assumed to be the most authoritative and important medium, but that’s only because we’ve all been led to believe that (through a culture that has created The Myth about the author as authority).

It’s a Myth, neither good nor bad. Just a belief system that, increasingly, we’re all moving away from.

Creative people too often pursue mediums that have been pushed on them by other people, and because it’s the well-worn path. Instead, follow the Apple motto: “Think different.”

By

Source: janefriedman.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Writing Backstory Through Dialogue

Backstory is one of the trickier elements of writing. We have to take our readers back in time to let them know some of the past, but how do we do it without interrupting the flow of the story? Jerry Jenkins is here today to discuss one of the more organic methods for including character backstory without grinding the action to a halt.

What are we to do now that the flashback has fallen into disfavor with today’s readers? Apparently they no longer have the patience for a sudden stop in the story so we can show how our character got where she is today.

Used to be you could invent something to remind her of her childhood or her relationship with her father or the first time she fell in love. Then you’d have her daydream or zone out and remember everything about some poignant incident from years past.

Well, I agree that got to be a clichè—always followed by someone somehow jarring her back to the present.

Regardless, we’re writing for people who get most of their information from screens, so what do we do?

Tell Your Story in Order

Gone is the luxury of taking the character (and the reader) back and rendering the old incident the way it happened. Readers want to read chronologically, and they don’t like the story put on hold to accommodate a flashback.

But we can’t ignore the past without throwing character motivation out with the bathwater. Our characters are who they are and do what they do because of who they once were and what happened to them then.

So what’s the solution?

Good news! You can include your character’s backstory without interrupting the flow of your story.

Backstory is the new solution, and I have to admit it’s better. It doesn’t slow the story, doesn’t force us to artificially create for our heroes a block of time during which they relive some powerful past experience.

What is Backstory?

Don’t mistake it for an abbreviated form of flashback. In its simplest form, backstory is everything that’s happened to your character before your novel opens. In essence you’re writing backstory when you identify a middle-aged man as “General so-and-so,” or a young woman as “Dr. so-and-so.”

Such people weren’t born with those titles and the roles they imply, so immediately readers realize these characters have pasts—and they can even imagine what they were like.

Does your character have a scar? That implies backstory. A limp? It will emerge whether it was congenital or the result of an injury or disease, but regardless, that’s backstory.

How to Write Backstory Through Dialogue

Flashbacks are obvious. They scream, “We’re headed into the past!” But backstory sneaks up on you. Use it over a flashback to avoid breaking the flow of your story. I’ve found the best way to manage this is through dialogue.

Backstory example (at an amusement park):

“You’re not getting me on that ride, Madison,” Suzie said, “Don’t even—”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Still having those dreams?”

Suzie looked away. “Not so much anymore, but once in a while.”

“You’d think after all these years…”

“I’d still rather not talk about it, okay?”

“Sure, sorry.”

See all we’ve learned from that otherwise innocuous exchange? Something years ago still causes nightmares. Naturally, we’ll eventually have to pay off on that set-up, and that’s what keeps readers turning pages.

Whatever the trauma was, you can hint at it like this more and more throughout the story, revealing more each time. Eventually something or someone from her past will show up and force the issue—and the whole story will come out.

But you see the difference? It’ll be onstage now, be recounted and explained now. Sure, it happened years ago, but it emerges as part of the current story. That’s subtly using backstory without resorting to flashback.

One More…

One of the best uses of backstory I’ve seen is from the 2016 movie The Magnificent Seven.

Denzel Washington stars as Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter and leader of the titular seven. Ethan Hawke plays Goodnight Robicheaux, a sharpshooter.

They’re strategizing to protect a town and avenge a woman who saw her husband shot to death. Robicheaux nods toward the woman and says to Chisolm, “She’d be about the same age as your sister, wouldn’t she?”

“Uh-huh.”

Robicheaux says, “Just want to make sure we’re fighting the battle in front of us instead of the battle behind us.”

That’s it. That’s the backstory. We don’t know what it means, but we know we’re going to find out. They’re not going to set up something like that and not tell us what happened. We’re going to find that our hero, Sam Chisolm, was once a victim.

Is he really out to protect somebody out of a sense of honor, or is he out for personal revenge? That’s the perfect example.

Tell me in the comments below how you’ll use backstory in your work in progress. And feel free to share a favorite example of backstory you’ve heard or read.

By Jerry B. Jenkins

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing