Friday, July 28, 2006

Lesson 24: Low Tension II

Hey, we made it to Friday...TGIF...Hope you have a great weekend, and that the weather cools down a tad out in California.

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel. This is a fabulous book and I encourage each of you to buy it. What I'm presenting here is by no means a full lesson and there is a wealth of insight and additional info that will help you.

In case your just joining us...What I am attempting to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. We're done with Character Development, now we're moving on to Plot Development! Today's lesson is in Section TWO: Low Tension: Part 2.

This lesson deals with burdensome backstory! This is one of the most common ways that an inexperienced novelist...and even sometimes the practiced ones...bog down their openings.

You may think that backstory tells things about a character, that we just have to know...LOL...sometimes it can, but that still doesn't make it necessary. We don't always need to know all of these facts, all at once, or right in the beginning.

Backstory doesn't tell a story, have tension or complicate problems. However once problems have been introduced, backstory can be artfully deployed to deepen them. It can be particularly useful in developing inner conflicts.

Force yourself to withhold the backstory stuff. Having it in the first few chapters always feels awfully necessary. But it is not. It may be more useful later in the story. If when you get there you find you don't need it after all, then maybe you didn't need it in the first place.

Step 1: In the first fifty pages of your novel, find any scene that establishes the setting, brings the players to the stage, sets up the situation, or that is otherwise backstory.

Step 2: Put brackets around this material, or highlight it in your electronic file.

Step 3: cut and paste this material into chapter fifteen...Yes, chapter fifteen
NOTE: Over and over authors bog down their beginnings with setup and backstory. The fact is, the author needs to know these things, of course, but the reader does not. The reader needs the story to begin.

Follow-up: Now, look at chapter fifteen. Does the backstory belong here? If not, can it be cut outright? If that is not possible, where is the best place for it to reside after the midpoint of your novel!

Conclusion: Backstory is less important than most novelists think. If you must include it at all, place it so that it answers a long-standing question, illuminating some side of a character rather than just setting it up.

And finally...this isn't a joke...but it aught to be....Burglars do the dumbest things!

When a man pulled two guns on convenience store clerk Wazir Jiwi and demanded money, Jiwi asked how much he wanted for one of the guns. He said $100, which Jiwi paid him.

Then Jiwi offered to buy the second gun. The robber handed it over, grabbed the cash and headed for the exit. But Jiwi had pushed a button under the counter that automatically locked the door.

"He turned to me and asked what was going on," Jiwi says. "I told him to bring the money back and I would let him go. He brought the money back, and I opened the door."


  1. David Meigs said...
    I’m really enjoying these lessons. Thanks Bonnie for investing all the time!

    I can’t wait for the lesson on spending the royalty checks!
    Bernita said...
    This is such good advice and I am dimly grasping how it should be done.
    Just hint at backstory and plunk it in later where it will do the most good - create a conflict or resolve one.
    Mindy Tarquini said...
    You know how much I hate backstory. It sounds forced. First person novels can get away with it some, but it depends on the voice and how the use of first person is being deployed.
    Rulan said...
    Great lesson Bonnie.
    Anonymous said...
    Thanks for bringing this book to our attention, Bonnie! I'm just starting my third book, so this is perfect timing for me. Can't wait to get the book and read more!


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