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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Backstory should foster more questions

I got this tip on backstory from Brandilyn Collins:

Any knowledge you give to the reader has to cause the reader to ask more questions.

Let me repeat that: Any knowledge you give to the reader has to cause the reader to ask more questions.

What that means for you as the writer is that any narrative or backstory has to be very carefully chosen and given.

Any narrative or backstory has to have a very specific purpose for the story, and that narrative or backstory should work to make the reader ask more questions about the character or storyline.

You want to foster that sense of “What’s going on?” for the reader that will make the reader keep reading in order to find out.

For example:

He sidled up to Anna, two hundred pounds of male testosterone, smelling faintly of tobacco and whiskey. “Hey, good lookin’, want some company?”

She saw through his rough-and-ready fa├žade. He worked for the Evil Triumvirate. She had crossed three state lines to try to escape them, but they’d found her at last. She had to find a way to get away from him. It was a crowded bar—hopefully that would be to her advantage.

Her shoulders slammed into place, rigid as iron bars. “No, thanks.”


Versus

He sidled up to Anna, two hundred pounds of male testosterone, smelling faintly of tobacco and whiskey. “Hey, good lookin’, want some company?”

He wasn’t what he seemed. How many state lines would she have to cross to get away from them?

Her shoulders slammed into place, rigid as iron bars. “No, thanks.” Her eye darted around the room. There—she headed toward a rowdy crowd of twenty-somethings at the bar.


In the second example, you keep the aura of mystery about who he is, who she is, and you show her intention to lose him with her actions, not telling it with her narrative thoughts.

Go through your manuscript and look for sections of narrative and backstory—even short paragraphs. Try to rewrite it to only give information that would make the reader ask more questions.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for that nice (and subtle to some of us newbies i am sure) comparison of how to get that info across to the reader. carrie

    ReplyDelete

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