The Backstory Blues


Kristen Lamb: Instead of dumping a crude flashback in the beginning so your reader will understand Such-and-Such…let them wonder. It’s good for them and it’s good for your career.



Backstory is the part of the story that takes place before your novel, novella, or short story begins. It’s the past.

I’ve heard writers say, “But if my readers don’t know all the events in the past that lead up to the events in the book, they won’t understand.”

Now it’s true that some parts of the past must be made known, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend pages and pages dropping that information on the reader’s head. Pick a few details, a few important bits, and sprinkle them through the book. Do it when and where the reader needs to know. And give the reader only what she needs.

Too much backstory will bog a novel down and throw your timeline all out of whack.  It will kill the forward momentum of your story. Nothing — or almost nothing — will provoke me into throwing a book across the room and marking the writer down as one I’ll never read again more quickly than too darned much backstory.

Adverbs: Friend, Foe, Switzerland?




Photo credit: Richard Edwards at

Stephen King: The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Mark Twain: I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me.

Graham Greene: There is almost a complete absence of the beastly adverb–far more damaging to a writer than an adjective.
Theodore Roethke: In order to write good stuff you have to hate adverbs.
Wow. Why do some great writers get their knickers in such a twist over adverbs? Writing should involve the use of the strongest, most vivid verbs. Adverbs enable lazy writing. Instead of “He spoke loudly,” try “He bellowed,” “He yelled,” “He shouted,” “He blared.” Each one has a slightly different meaning, and each one is more specific than “He spoke loudly.”

Another place writers often misuse adverbs is in tags. “I am afraid,” she said, fearfully. Don’t tell us (with the adverb) what the dialogue has already shown us. She’s afraid. Don’t gild the lily.

I’m not opposed to the occasional adverb. I am opposed to lazy writing and telling. The overuse of adverbs enables both of those bad habits.


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In Praise of Dogs


Photo credit: Dan Pegram

This handsome critter is my dog, Moses. He’s a Chow-Akita mix, about 80 pounds of ferocious cupcake. I named him Moses because we rescued him by pulling him out of a creek. (Not so much the River Nile, mind you, but close enough.) His little Chow legs make him look rather funny from this angle. Smile

He’s been a very good friend to me, my sons, and both of our cats. Not so much to our now-deceased dogs Boxer and Inky.

He loves to go for car rides, and he loves even more when the car ride ends at one of our city’s greenways. He loves to walk.

When I was well enough to hike, he was my companion in the woods. He would help me climb hills and steep trails I couldn’t quite make on my own.

Two or three times, he has discouraged people from coming into my house – people with bad intentions. Or at least, I think I can assume that from the time of night (the middle of same) and the assault on the front door rather than polite knocking.

Now, as I said, we rescued Moses. I keep up with the local animal control and their adoptable animals. A post on the Facebook page of an organisation that works with them to publicise and promote adoption saddened me. Apparently many of the strays and abandoned dogs know such commands as “sit,” “stay,” “shake hands.” These were someone’s pets. And if no one rescues/adopts them . . . well, you know what their fate will be.

So I’m going to say if you need or want an animal companion, consider checking out the local animal shelter, Humane Society, various rescues. Just know that you’re making a lifetime commitment to care for and love your companion.

As I type this, Moses is lying with his great, shaggy head on my foot. When he came into our house the first time, I could hold him in one hand. Now his head is putting my poor foot to sleep.

Dogs: gotta love ‘em.

Photo credit: Dan Pegram

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face.headache.doubt. by Patrick_Denker at

photo by Patrick Denker at

Self-doubt will kill you as a creative soul. Does that sound like drama-llama overreaching to you? Well, it isn’t. I suspect all writers occasionally lie awake in the dark of night thinking, “I am a fraud. Someone is going to discover how unclever and uncreative and unwriterly I am and boot me out of The Cool Kids Writers Club.”

Don’t believe me? How about Tennessee Williams, one of the finest writers produced in the United States in the last century. “I don’t believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me.”

Or maybe Stephen King, permanent denizen of the bestselling lists. “Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction can be difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub.
There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.”

And self-doubt will sap your energy, make you second-guess your every decision and choice, paralyze your very mind.

What to do? Perhaps the best thing is to *drum roll, please* keep writing, you silly beast! Keep.Writing. If what you write today is lousy, well, it’s lousy. I have a file in my computer called “Crap I Don’t Want to Crap Out.” It’s my “boy, this stuff is lousy, but there might be a sentence or a phrase or something worth salvaging in here, so I’ll save it” file. When I can’t write decent stuff, I write anyway and stash it all there.

Give yourself permission to write badly, if you have to. Just write. Write anything. Anything at all. To quote the amazing Maya Angelou, “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks, ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’”

If it’s good enough for Ms. Angelou, it’s good enough for me. And you.

Photo credit: Patrick_Denker at

An interview


typewriter by Richard Edwards FreePicturesAZ

Photo by Richard Edwards Free Pictures A to Z

I recently did an interview with the wonderful Tonia Brown. She is one terrific writer. And she can ask some off-the-wall questions. I had a lot of fun with this interview.

Here’s a link to it: A Word With Mary Ann Peden-Coviello — Tonia Brown


Photo credit: Richard Edwards at

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