Beginnings, research and backstory

I haven’t been including my revision update, because, actually, I’m not sure where I am with it. My goal is still to finish by the end of November, but realistically, it might be by the end of the year, with all the holidays and Christmas shopping, etc. We’ll see.

But the reason I’m not sure where I am with the revision is that I’ve been going back and forth with the first eight chapters. I keep having eureka moments that go, “Ah ha! If I do this, it’ll fix everything. … Uh, no. … Ah ha! If I do this, it’ll fix everything. … Uh, no.”

What I finally realized — I think 🙂 — is that the problem I’ve been having is not a structure, plot or writing problem, it’s a research problem. There’s one aspect of my main character that I haven’t fully researched, and as long as I’m unsure of that, I can’t write the character properly. The problem is, the research needs more than Web browsing. I need help from an expert, and I’ve felt too intimidated to call. I didn’t know who to call, and I didn’t want to just cold call someone out of the phone book. Finally, I put a message on our local SCBWI Yahoo list asking for recommendations, and I’ve received great help. It’s a first step. Fingers crossed.

The other thing I’ve really been working on is paring down the text and not explaining anything too early. I’m working on cutting out the backstory until it’s really, really necessary. I’m reading the brilliant Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander: The Code of Claw right now (the last in the series! I’m so excited!), and I noticed she’s great at leaving out information until the reader needs it. She sticks with the action in the present, and she includes the backstory only when it’s needed to explain a current decision or plot point. That keeps the story moving quickly and doesn’t bog down the reader.

It’s a new way of writing for me, at least, in the first draft, I wrote the backstory early because that’s when I came up with it and it was necessary for me to learn it then, because I needed to know it for the rest of the book. But now that I’m revising, I’m working on moving that stuff back as far as possible. Every time I think of putting it in, I ask myself, can the reader understand what’s going on without it? If yes, then I leave it out … for now. So far, I think it’s working, but we’ll see what my critique group thinks.

How do you handle backstory?

Write On!

4 Responses

  1. Vonna Carter says:

    Yes, eliminating backstory, especially in the beginning, really helps to get a novel moving. In this second draft of my WIP my original chapter 4 has become chapter 1.

    Much better!

  2. mand says:

    I would imagine you’ll find a lot of it never gets mentioned explicitly at all. The best fiction can be the stories where we feel we know loads about the characters / places / situations, that is never said.

  3. Karen Strong says:

    I write a full back story but I usually just sprinkle it in during the revision stage. Like Vonna, I try to keep it out of the beginning as much as I can and when I do use it, I only use specifically what is needed.

    Good luck on your research! Hopefully you’ll find what you need to move forward.

  4. That’s so true, Vonna. With my first book, my original chapter 6 ended up being my final chapter 1.

    Mand, I couldn’t agree more. Thanks

    And Karen, yeah, I’m learning to do that better. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until a recent critique, but it’s helping me see things better.

    Thanks all!

What do you think?