Thursday, March 24, 2011

Beware the Boring Back Story

Just about every story has some element of back story that provides critical detail that the reader needs in order to make sense of what is going on. Unfortunately, back story not only tends to be boring, but it can literally pull the reader out of the story and cause them to lose interest if not handled correctly. Imagine a fast paced chase scene packed with action and intensity that gets interrupted by a narrator popping onto to the scene, giving a monologue that explains why the results of the chase scene are so crucial to the story. All the action is suddenly brought to a halt. The intensity is deflated. And you just lost your reader.

Some beginning authors make the common mistake of trying to put all their back story at the beginning of the book, thinking that the story can’t begin unless the reader already knows everything that has happened before. That’s a big mistake, unless you want to lose the reader’s interest in the first few pages. Nor does it work to just drop a big chunk of back story in later chapters either.

One overused way of handling back story, is to leave it in big chunks by including it in a flashback or dream sequence. While this can work, it often has the effect of still pulling the reader out the present action of the story. I’m not saying, you shouldn’t approach back story in this manner, it’s just not always the best method and has become a bit cliché.

Back story has to be handled with care. It’s usually best if sprinkled and woven into the story in a way that it hardly goes noticed by the reader. One way to do this is to break it down into small pieces that can be injected a piece at a time throughout the course of the story; maybe a quick comment in a dialogue, a tiny memory that a character recalls, a headline on a newspaper (not the entire newspaper article), and as needed, short bits over time from the narrator can be effective if done in an unobtrusive manner.

The point is, be careful about how you handle back story. Pay attention to what it does to the flow and interest level of your story. Find ways to use it to enhance your story, rather than drag it down.

What have been some effective ways that you’ve learned to handle back story?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Curse of the Spam Filter

Spam filters are wonderful things when they keep all the unwanted garbage that would otherwise putrefy and clutter up your inbox. However, they can be a curse as well, keeping out wanted e-mails occasionally. I don't very often check my spam filter for e-mail that really isn't spam, but today a colleague of mine asked if I had been receiving e-mail from one of her colleagues. I hadn't, so I decided I better check my spam filter for it. The e-mail wasn't there, but there was a week-old e-mail trapped in there from a publisher "eager" to read the rest of one my manuscripts. If I hadn't happened to check my spam filter, in a few weeks it would have been purged and I never would have known of their interest.

So tip of the day, it pays to occasionally make sure your spam filter isn't blocking e-mail that you really want.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pushing through the Writing Doldrums

What do you do when you're sick of the book you're working on? This hasn't happened to me often, but it has on an occasion. In talking to other authors this seems to be a common occurrence for most authors. You get bored of working on the same project, or maybe it just doesn't seem as exciting or interesting as when you first started. Or maybe you think the piece just plain ol' stinks.

There's at least two reasons that I think this happens during the writing process. The first one is that maybe,you're right. Maybe it does stink. Maybe it's boring. There have been times when I've been working on a novel that I have started to get bored with it. When this happens, I have to reexamine my writing, because sometimes I'm bored with it because my writing has turned stale or boring. When that happens, I have to figure out what I've done to make it boring and inject new life into it. Maybe I'm not creating enough tension. Maybe I've portrayed my characters as one-dimensional.  Perhaps, I'm failing to make the setting come alive. So, if you ever start losing interest in your writing, first take a hard look at ways you can improve it to make it more interesting.

However, sometimes we get sick of what we're working on simply because we've been working on it for so long that it has become too familiar to us. It's like listening to your favorite song over and over and over again. You love it maybe the first few hundred times, but after awhile you grow sick of it and you hate it. It's not that the song has magically gone bad, but it no longer holds any appeal to you. If this happens in your writing, you have to fight through it and keep writing until you finish it, even if you think every word you write is junk. Maybe it is junk, but that's what rewrites are for. But once you have it finished, you can breathe a sigh of relief, let it sit in your drawer for a while, and then take a fresh look at it to do your rewrites. Chances are that when you do, you'll realize that it isn't nearly bad as you thought it was and that it fact it's pretty good, or at least it will be once you get your rewriting done.

So, once again, what do you do when you're sick of what you're writing?