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.

IndieReCon is Coming!

How many times have you heard a writer say (or say yourself – I know I’ve said it), “I’d love to attend a conference, but they’re so expensive. And how can I get away from home? Conferences are all so far away. I don’t know the city such-and-such a conference is in, and I’m nervous about being there alone.”

Well, this one is online (you can attend from your bedroom or living room or the coffee shop down the road), both in real time and archived (so you can read the sessions and watch the video chats any time), filled with high-quality teachers (to judge from last year’s roster and the few announced so far for this year), and FREE. Free. Can’t beat that.

If you’re a writer, whether you’re an indie or traditionally published author or a hybrid, you owe it to yourself and your readers to work on your craft every way you can. Attending writers conferences, whether online or physical, is one way to do that.

So why would you pass up this opportunity? Great teachers. Extreme convenience. And free.

I attended last year and will again this year. And for the record, I have no other connection with this conference. I’m not a presenter; I’m not a sponsor; I’m just an attendee who thinks this is a great resource for writers of all stripes.

Takeaways from a one-day workshop

Yesterday I attended a one-day workshop sponsored by Winston-Salem Writers (a group of which I’m a member) and given by the truly amazing C. Hope Clark. One reason she’s amazing is that she’s a bit of an introvert, not the kind of person who enjoys standing up in front of a crowd of strangers and sharing her knowledge. You’d never know it, by the way. She’s learned some strategies for dealing with that. And she shares them in one of the two books I bought at the workshop, “The Shy Writer Reborn.” It’s available from Amazon in e-book and paper. The Shy Writer Reborn 

One of the most important things I learned—or maybe just had reinforced for me—is to value your writing. Hope Clark is the founder of “Funds for Writers” (and if you’re not getting this newsletter, at least in the free version, why not?), and she reminded me that writing for free is not, as a rule, beneficial to your career. Write some guest blog posts for free, sure, and your own blog, but don’t give away your writing.  Much of her focus is not the same as mine. She loves writing for magazines. I have a dreadful time writing non-fiction. Still, the thought is the same.  If you’re writing short stories and submitting them to anthologies that don’t  even offer a contributor’s copy and/or a token payment, you are not valuing your own writing nearly enough. That anthology publisher is going to charge money for the book, isn’t it? Then why on earth not compensate the people who provide the content?

Another thing I picked up from the workshop is to look for opportunities in places you might not consider from the get-go. Look beyond the surface. Do your research. When you start looking for an agent, if that’s something you decide you want, don’t give up. Write a new query letter for each agent, tailoring it to that particular agent.  If the book isn’t hooking the interest you think it should, perhaps you need to rework the book entirely. Don’t stop. Don’t stop trying to improve.

And I’d say you might give some serious thought to picking up Hope’s newsletter. Try the free version for a year or so. Then graduate to the paid subscription. It’s only $15 a year and the newsletter is packed—packed!—with opportunities to make a bit of money (or maybe a lot of money) with your words. Go here (Funds For Writers) and sign up. You’ll soon find out why Writer’s Digest has named this website one of the top 101 websites for writers year after year. At the top of the page are buttons where you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter as well.

A Review of “The Kick-Ass Writer”

Anyone who knows me at all knows of my love for the blog written by Chuck Wendig, Terrible Minds. He gives outstanding – though profane and sometimes (okay, often) vulgar – writing advice. I recommend that any writer who wants to improve step into the asbestos boots, slip on some high-stress sunglasses, and wade right in. You might get your tooties stepped on, but by George, you’ll learn something.

Chuck’s compiled a lot of his blog posts into books. I have them all in Kindle versions. His new one, however, “The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience,” I bought in paperback.  His other writing books were self-published; this one is published by Writer’s Digest Books. Result: the ebook version is closer in cost to the paperback version than I’d like. So I bought the paper version.

So what do I think about this book? Let me count all 1,001 ways I love it. Okay, no one has time for that. Smile  I’ll just summarise, shall I?

I loved this book. Much of it I had read on the Terrible Minds blog. It’s still good to have all in one place. The book is divided into three parts: Fundamentals, Craft, Publishing and Earning Your Audience.

Fundamental topics include “25 Things I Want to Say to So-Called ‘Aspiring’ Writers,” “25 Things You Should Know About Storytelling,” "and “25 Ways to Defeat Writer’s Block.”

Topics in the Craft include: “25 Things You Should Know About Plot,” “25 Things You Should Know About Narrative Structure,” “25 Things You Should Know About Character.” This section is probably my favourite. It’s chockfull of brilliance. Brilliance.

Finally, topics in Publishing/Earn Your Audience: “25 Things You Should Know About Self-Publishing,” “25 Things You Should Know About Getting Published,” “25 Ways to Earn Your Audience.”

You can read this book cover-to-cover. You can read only the bits that you need to read as you need them. You can read them randomly. It doesn’t matter. I cannot recommend the book highly enough.

Your ass will be kicked. Kicked right into high gear.

This is the link to the paperback edition. It’s also available as an ebook.

The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience