Every character has a past.
I’ve spent a lot of time on creating the history of my characters — some professionals might say too much time. I’d say my novel started through the eyes of a character.
Building backstory for your characters brings them to life.
— A barf cliché that’s true
The person reading your book wants to be lost in the story you have written. When each character in the story has his or her own history, even if their history doesn’t have a single line in the book, that character’s authenticity will show and the book will be better. If the book is better, the reader will be lost in the world you have created. As a writer, this is the ultimate goal.
The thing about backstory is that I can get lost in it while writing. What I have learned is that too much backstory takes the reader out of the story. That’s death for a novel. Once the reader is out the novelist has failed. I try to remember this and not think too much about it at the same time — Ugh. What I do is pepper in the backstory that is written somewhere else, maybe on a character file that I have created. Peppering, in my humble opinion, is using a line, a word, maybe some dialogue or nonverbal cue to get some of the backstory in. If done correctly the character has more depth and the story does too. No matter the role, every character in my novel has a past.
Let’s be clear, I haven’t published this novel, so I’m relating to you what I have learned from other writers, agents and publishers as well as my own experience. Some novelists write seamless back story into their novels. Maybe someday that will be me. For now, I’m sticking with the plan. Pepper in the back story, keep the gems and all the rest falls into the rhythm of a story I’d like to get lost in.
I. You. She and he.
I was working late on my outline and had a freak out. What is the point of view going to be?
My first draft was in the first person. I kept getting stuck because I wanted to convey what other characters were going through. My other drafts played with third person limited.
First person: This is the “I” narrator. The character is telling the reader the story. The reader experiences what the character experiences. It’s really great to read but too limiting for what I would like to do. Joe Clifford is a master at this one.
Second person: This is the “you” narrator. Bright Lights Big City is probably the best example I can think of. Great damn book. No idea how Jay McInerney http://www.jaymcinerney.com/ pulled it off.
Third person — two types here:
Omniscient: The all-knowing narrator. This style uses “he” or “she”, can climb into the mind of any character to convey what any “he” or “she” character is thinking and feeling at any time. I’m not that good.
Limited: The narrator is telling the story about “he” or “she”. It’s like the character is wearing a camera on his or her shoulder. This can be used with different characters with page breaks and chapters. Tom Pitts, currently one of my favorites to read, uses it so well he might actually be a wizard.
I’m going with third person limited. I have three characters, maybe four, I’d like to work with. I hope I can pull it off.
All said, the outline is done and my first chapter is under way. Writing is fun again.
Here are a few helpful links about point of view. Remember, no one will actually tell you which point of view to use. I know, I want my hand held too.
Yes or no?
I’ve asked a lot of writers this question, many accomplished and many not.
It’s a fifty-fifty split, roughly. The writers who use the outline tend to need it. The writers who don’t outline tend to despise the idea.
I was of the latter ilk until recently. I’ve rewritten my book three times. No outline. I don’t think the “no outline” is working for me. I’m not getting crazy with bullet points or roman numerals. I’m paraphrasing what happens in each chapter. This has helped me flush out the story, which is what I struggle with. I can write pretty sentences and compelling scenes, but they never go anywhere. The outline helps me figure out how to move the story forward, find plot holes, character flaws, keep track of characters and make sure that all the moving pieces are where I want them. It’s a helpful tool and I think it will give me more freedom to write the story without worrying if the story is working. I’m sure an editor will eviscerate it someday, but at least I’ll feel good about handing to and editor.
It’s not fun for me to write an outline. That’s a problem. I like things that are fun and I don’t like to do things that are not fun. Christ, I rewrote my novel three times instead of tackling the outline. The word, “outline” makes me cringe. It’s simplistic, I know. It’s a difficult truth that I must face. Learning how to do the not-so-fun stuff is what separates the hobbyist from the professional. I’m learning, and I like to learn.
A necessity that invites pain.
I need it, thrive off of it. It might be a sickness, but it works.
It’s fuel. With writing comes rejection. A friend of mine actually said something a couple of weeks ago that has stuck with me, “Managing expectations is important.” There are very few truer words.
It’s important to remember that with rejection comes acceptance. It make take one hundred rejections, but when that acceptance comes knocking there is no better feeling. I read the letter/email (only email really), dance the jig on top of my roof, smile and think nothing in life can go wrong. It’s Glorious. This lasts about a day, and then I fall into managing my expectations again.
I expect to win, be successful and take the literary world by storm… someday. Right now, I manage my expectations, take rejection on the chin like a champ and push forward. Another friend called me a mensch. I’ll take it.
Rejection is just an obstacle on the course of life. I put it to writing because that is the path I have chosen, but whenever we put ourselves out there we are open to the demon of rejection. Either live with it and push forward or fear it and do nothing. In the end, you’ll know what worked for you and what didn’t.
Go out there and get rejected. You’ll survive and feel stronger for it.
I love them. It’s why I write.
When I finished reading Game of Thrones many years ago I was dumbfounded. Someone did it again, wrote an epic that I absolutely loved. Then what happens? HBO makes a show about it, doubling the power and intrigue of a fantastic world with dragons, queens, kings and sellswords.
Lord of the Rings did this for me as well. But there was an element of childhood awe about it. Game of Thrones does not cater to children. It is a world that could be considered a possibility, a dark age with the decades long winter and ruthless lords. I have always been fascinated by this time period — probably because it is far removed from my reality. To imagine this time period is safe and exhilarating. We can peek into what was possible and still be safe. Game of Thrones is complete fantasy, a world created by George R.R. Martin, and has no bearing on a realistic history, but there is a what if lurking behind the veil. What if there were dragons, giants and Others (White Walkers for the ones who only watch the show)?
I’m glad there are people out there who create vast worlds with their minds and share them with people like us. As a fledgling writer, I live in the what if world. All writers do. Each scene is a what if with causality. It’s exciting and I hope to be among those people someday.
It’s been a while. I know. I’ve felt it.
Life got it’s claws into me, tried to pull me down and keep me from doing this writing thing — also Game of Thrones. I love Game of Thrones. I’m rewatching the series and rereading the books.
I almost abandoned my novel completely this summer — it was my mother who encouraged me to keep at it. I’ve written a few short stories, two of which are now in the final editing phase. My novel is back on track. I’m trying the outline thing as opposed to the writing blind thing. I’ll figure it out someday.
The knowledge I have gained this past year reminded me that life gets rocky; enduring the tough days, weeks and even months with a positive attitude will build a foundation for the inevitable tough times ahead — and as life goes, tough times are unavoidable. Life is a ride, a roller coaster of ups, downs, laughter and fear.
I’ve also come to realize that writing a post once a week about something villainous is not something I want to do. I will keep the name, but will focus more on the struggles, adventures and processes of being a new writer.
Thanks for following me and I hope that you didn’t miss me too much.
Also, a BIG shout out to my mother, Georgeanne Brennan and a fellow writer Jennifer Moorhead. They have kept me up and running.
With time, the seed of envy can grow into a weed. Maybe this metaphor is the impetus for the saying, “green with envy.” Not likely.
I used to get it bad. When I had to work and my friends would head to the mountain without me on a fresh powder day, or the waves were good and my buddies went for a surf and I had to work. I’m shallow, or maybe simple. But I’m not simple when that weed of envy grows into resentment and disdain for responsibility. I get complicated and grumpy, and regress into adolescence.
Not to mention Social media — the envy machine. It used to get me bad when I’d see videos of professional surfers and snowboarders flying through waist deep fresh snow or catching perfect waves in some far off tropical climate. It would hit me in the gut when my feed populated with friends and family having fun in Europe, Asia, Mexico, Nicaragua or Colorado. I’ve deleted Instagram, Facebook and Twitter from my phone about four times in the past two years. Then, at some point this year, I finally decided that I was being silly. I’m an adult and I need it for work. So, self-discipline. It’s tough. Some days are easier than others, but for the most part I can manage my social media time.
Nowadays, I catch envy before those damn seeds take root. But It’s also important for me to recognize the social media monster for what it is. Not real. In fact, a contrived reality. How many people stop fighting to pose in front of the perfect backdrop or pause an argument to take a selfie? How many professionals suffered through terrible conditions to get the one two-minute take to post on their feed? I don’t know. But I do know what I’m seeing on social media are moments in a day, a full day with a spectrum of situations and moments. I’m glad people can stop arguing for a smile at the camera. I respect the professionals who go out there and suck it up on terrible conditions for a solid shot so they can get a bit of a payday from their sponsor. It doesn’t always work, this positive spin, but I’m trying.
I occasionally remind myself that I live in one of the few places in the world where I can go snowboarding in the summer and drive to the beach for a surf all in one day — if I want. I just need to make time to do it. So goes the dance.