Where Did I Put My Tiara

The life unglamorous . . .

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Location: Utah, United States

see biography at http://www.marjoriejones.com

Saturday, April 22, 2006

No Backstory in Chapter One

*big huge sigh*
I suppose it had to happen.  Something I AGREE with.  But in my defense, I wouldn't characterize this as a schmule, or even a rule.  It's simply good technique.
When we write a novel, we have a finite number of pages to tell the story at hand.  What happens to the characters before the novel starts might be paramount to their character, their ideas and behaviors, their motivations, and it may even have something to do with the actual story as it happens now.  How you deliver that information, the information of the past, is the key.  Telling the events of the past as 'real time' in the current novel proper isn't going to cut it. 
As they say in Hollywood:  Cut to the chase, folks. 
There are several ways to deliver backstory pertinent to the current novel.  Prologue, Weaving, and Flashbacks.
The Prologue
This is an unnumbered chapter set before the beginning of the book.  It should be entertaining and pertinent to the book.  Something in the prologue should lead to events in the book, build characterization, or pose a question that will be answered later.  I have prologues in both The Jewel and the Sword and The Lighthorseman, but I don't have them in either Starla Child's Firelight nor Raleigh Kincaid's Tapestry of Wonders. 
Slight side rant:  Schmule:  Never have a prologue - Readers skip them and editors hate them. 
Response:  Bite me.
Sorry, I digress.  The second manner in which to deliver your backstory is the Weaving Technique.  Throughout the course of the novel, you drop hints that something powerful happened in the distant or not-so-distant past that is guiding the characters decision-making process and actions.  This is a wonderful technique because it builds the level of drama and suspense and keeps the reader turning the pages.  I'm using this in The Flyer, the sequel to The Lighthorseman, which, thus far, has no prologue.
The final technique involves the Flashback.  I've heard folks say they hate them.  I have no opinion other than to say that I have used them in at least one book, Dawn of Love, slated to come out later this year.  In fact, the flashbacks in this novel could be a novel of their own.  It's the story of my Vampire hero's former life, and it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  But this wasn't "his story".  His story involves the current heroine, his happily-ever-after comes much later, and his former story has much to do with it.  Flashbacks were the best way to go about it in this case.
Ultimately, the decision of how to involve the characters' pasts is up to you.  If the past has an impact on the present, we must deliver that information.  Unfortunately, the first few chapters isn't the place to do it.  In my opinion, a good novel will center on the present, then bring in the motivations of the past later on. 
You all know I don't believe in schmules.  But I do believe in good, solid writing.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Don't Use A Lot of Descriptions

This is a schmule I've heard occasionally and when I put out a call for so-called rules among my writer friends, this one caught my attention.
The general concept is that a lot of description bores the reader.  Readers skip the descriptions and look for action and dialogue.  Excuse me?  If I spend my hard-earned money on a book, I'm reading every single word of it.  If the story is boring or badly written, I simply put the book down and don't pick it up again.  But I don't skip passages to get to the good stuff.  That's just silly.
I suppose if the schmule were modified a little, it could have some merit.  For instance:  Don't include a lot of boring, insignificant descriptions in your book.  Of course, we could just as easily say, "Don't include a lot of boring, insignificant dialogue in your book," or, "Don't include a lot of boring, insignificant action in your book," as well, so what would be the point?
Fact is, if the words we write are written well, people will read them.  How can one create a whole world between the covers if we don't use description?  What kind of descriptions is this schmule talking about?  I'll tell you what kind:  The boring kind.
The snow was white.  Oooookay.  We get it.
The snow glistened with tiny, sparking diamonds beneath the warmth of a mid-morning sun. 
The snow shimmered, creating a blinding apocalypse undaunted by the warmth of a mid-morning sun.
Both of the sentences above are pure description.  They both create a different idea of what the sun means.  In the first, our heroine might be strolling along a country pathway, deep in thought, anticipating a bright future with her man.  The second changes the face of the snow from a gorgeous, crisp winter day to a monster intent upon destruction.  Why?  Who knows.  That's up to you.  Perhaps the POV character has been in a plane crash in the Alps.  Maybe the heroine is snowed in with the villian and the snow is a barrier keeping her from saving herself, or the hero from saving her.
Point is, we need description to offset and compliment our action and our dialogue.  People only talk when they have something to say.  If the heroine in the first example is alone, she's isn't going to say, "Gosh, the snow is glistening with tiny, sparking diamonds beneath the warmth of the mid-morning sun."  At least, she's not going to say it aloud unless her hero is an orderly at the local mental hospital and she's cruisin' for a way to meet him. 
I can see a conversation for the second example, thought.  Bear with me:
"The snow is shimmering, Bob."
"Yeah, I know.  It's creating a blinding apocalypse."
"You're right.  It's completely undaunted by the warmth of the mid-morning sun."
Errr... NOT.
Description is a critical part of our novels.  It creates the scenes in which our characters act and speak.  It's all a balancing act.  Description (the NON-boring kind) merges with dialogue and action to create the finished product. 
No description?  Puh-leeze!