Who has a Backstory?

As we go through our prep work for NaNoWriMo, and take the time of creating our characters that will inhabit our story world, we need to make them not just two dimensional figures but also three dimensional. When I say three dimensional, I’m talking about their physical attributes as well as their identity attributes as well.

These attributes includes, their quirks, their relationships, what make them be them. Furthermore, what past event shaped to be who they are on page one. This is past event is part of their backstory. Now backstory is different from a flash back in that we should use backstory as a sprinkle to give clues as to who they are. If it is essential later on, to give a flash back scene then write it. But backstory should be used effectively to say this is who the character is on that first page of the novel.

Look at Harry Potter, for example, we know that within the first chapter of the story, Harry is an orphan due to his parents being killed. We know that due to this event, that he has to not only live with his aunt and uncle but that he at some point must face the evil villain that took his parent’s life. When we look at The Hunger Games, for example we know that Katniss has trust issues with the leaders of Panam and that her father was killed during a mining accident, and that for the most part she is the caretaker for her family.

However, the main character should not be the only one with a backstory that is reflected in the story, but setting as well. The setting that is on page one of the story, was also effected by a past event. Take Game of Thrones for example, we know that in the world of Westeros, we have had a long summer and now we are heading into a long winter, none that has ever been scene before. In The Hunger Games, we are aware that we are coming in on the day of the latest reaping and how that came about. We know in the world of Batman, that Gotham is an unsafe place due to jokers, and other villains being allowed to roam the streets free. Let’s face it in the world of Batman, there are too many villains and not enough police officers to put away the villains.

When you are writing or planning our your story, there are two essential elements that need to have a backstory, setting and character. If these two do not have the backstory, then the complexity that may be needed in the story is going to be missing. Remember, that today’s characters that are created and the worlds that we create need to be complex and allow for readers to get hooked on to them from the very first page.

When looking at the backstory that you are looking to create, look at the milestones that are part of the character or setting, such as the world was created or the character went to school. Then dive into further by asking, did anything particular take place when the world was created or at that first day of school? If you answer no, then you should brainstorm as to what could have been the worst possible outcome that came out of those two events.

By looking at the worst possible outcomes that could take place, you are bringing in trauma. Trauma is where growth begins to occur and you are damaging the psyche. This damage should not just be to the character. Keep in mind there will be outside influences that will play apart of the story but those influences, should also reflect in someway back to the character’s backstory.

The best advice that I can give on using backstory is to be hard on your character, for when you are harder on your character you will allow them to grow and to take shape. If you don’t allow them to grow, then the reader will not want to see what happens to them through out the book or how they overcome the ordeals that they have to deal with.

Furthermore, when coming up with backstory write it out during your planning phase, and when you use it in the story, just sprinkle it in for effect. Remember, we are not going for flashback, we want to give a hint of who they are on that first page. We only need to include info that the reader needs to know, if we give too much detail then we lose our edge and our secrets and our effectiveness to tell the story.

Backstory, can be challenging for some writers for they confuse it will flashbacks, but I suggest during this month to learn from masters that have used this convention effectively, the following examples, listed above should be looked at. But I will add another one, if you have never seen past episodes of NCIS: New Orleans, don’t. Watch the latest episode, and pay attention to the character of Dwayne Pride, for in that episode, they splash some backstory in there. Now my other suggestion, is don’t use Google to find out what has recently effected the character either, for that would be cheating.

If that is not your thing, then I would suggest watch an episode or movie with a really complex character and on a piece of paper, write down anything that hints to the character or setting backstory. Then re-watched that episode or movie and see if you catch anymore details that you might have missed. Don’t pay attention to clothing, colors, just what is shown clearly and dialog. If you catch on to those hints about backstory, then you have an example of how it is done.

I hope that you have found today’s topic helpful on backstory. I hope that you have a great planning or writing day!

One Author’s Problems and Some Insights

This morning while I was wondering around on Facebook, I came across a post from a fellow writer, who was beating himself up for mistakes that he had made with his first publication and this goes beyond spelling errors. The mistakes that he mentioned were items such as the subject matter of the book, when he was querying it out to agents and publishers the letter and everything that went into it sucked. He admitted that he when he self-published it he picked the wrong categories and his synopsis wasn’t right. He also admitted that he wrote on a subject matter that a lot of people don’t know about or don’t have an interest in.

Alright, so if you came across this post then you would think that he is being too hard on himself and the phrase “poor baby” might come to mind as well. But let’s look at it as we have all been there. We have beaten ourselves up for the mistakes that we have made and should know better. Here is the thing, I know that I’ve beaten myself up for mistakes that I have made in my writing. Mistakes that I know that I should have corrected but didn’t because I didn’t catch them.

Granted, let’s also face something that most of us writers the first time, we go into publishing we don’t know all the nuts and bolts that go into it. But that is part of learning and growing when we do find those nuts and bolts and see how they all fit together. There are a lot of things that this writer didn’t do with his first manuscript like get someone to edit for him before he just published. He didn’t market the manuscript so that others that might be interested in the subject could find it and take an interest to read it.

But here are somethings that I picked up from last week’s conference on traditional publishers, that I want to share with all of you and this goes back to our writer friend and his manuscript when it wasn’t picked up by these publishers. Well, first start with the writer before taking in the manuscript. First of all having followers on social media is everything. If you don’t have a following then you are not very likely to be picked up my a traditional publisher. The why is easy and that is because you cannot connect with an audience then they will have a hard time finding one for you. The second thing, is that if you are not a celebrity then a traditional publisher won’t pick you up either. This where the publishers are making their money. It’s not from writers like you and me, it’s from the celebrities. The why is also easy because they already have a following from the products that they sponsor, the movies and television shows that they are in and the huge following that they have on social media and the media events that they attend.

This is one of the biggest reasons why every year traditional publishers, publish and market so many books that are written by celebrities. Now granted the number one best-selling book right now is co-written by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. While most look at the cover and say good for them. There are others, that say Bill Clinton is using the fame that comes with James Patterson for this book. Now granted, Bill Clinton could have written the book by himself and it would have done fine. But it wouldn’t be fiction and that was what Bill Clinton wanted to put out there. Remember most books written by celebrities are under the genre of memoir or creative non-fiction. So then in order for it to succeed then the publisher needed to pull someone in like James Patterson to make a success. Well, it worked for it is number one on Amazon and the New York Times best selling list for fiction.

Here is the other piece about traditional publishing, if the subject that you are writing does not have a huge interest then it will not be likely to be picked up either. The traditional publishers are geared towards getting big numbers and getting readers to flock towards those books that are new. Granted, just as we have a hard time gaining those readers to take an interest in us as first time authors, they do too. The why is not hard to see for it all comes from readers and other consumers are loyal to things that they previously know and that includes authors that they have read before.

But here is another tidbit that I gained, and that is that if you are seeking the attention of that traditional publisher, then you also need to keep up with those trends. If you are writing a story and your main character is male then you are going to have a hard time to get picked up, because thanks to the success of The Hunger Games, female main characters are in and they are making money for the publishers. But the other piece of this is also if you get rejected for the story having a male main character, the tide will change sooner or later and then your story might get picked up.

So even if you get rejected by an agent for a publisher, just keep in mind that your story might not be right for the publisher at this time, or what you have in mind is not right for the agent that you are querying. This were doing your homework is key if you want to get picked up by an agent or even by a traditional publisher. Furthermore, traditional publishers have not grown for quite sometime in terms of what they are doing, where as self-publishing has grown over 200% in the last five years alone, and in an industry that should be growing like everything else then the traditional publishers need to re-think and see about getting on the same page or doing better than the self-publishers. But that is there current mistake such as using the gatekeepers to keep some of us out of the industry.

But the other thing to think of is that right now, it’s back to school time and for the most part book buyers are buying the staples like Catcher in the Rye, The Giver, and other classics that are put in the classrooms. Therefore, no new books will be publishing until after October or November just in time for Christmas. Then it will fall again until about April or May and keep going until the middle part of July. Yes, they have market trends like every other industry and that is something that we have to keep track of also whether we are self-publishing or traditional publishing.

Getting back to our writer friend, I gave him a simple piece of advice and that is to learn from the mistakes that were done with his first piece and to try harder with his second piece. Further, he can fix the problems that he had with the first and he can republish it as a new edition when he is ready. But he also needs to market what he is putting out there so that he can find the readers that are interested in his work.

I hope that you find this helpful with what you are looking for when it comes to your writing and your decisions about what to do with your projects. Until next time, I hope that you have a wonderful writing day!

The Importance of Human Life in Story

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of Twilight from the perspective of how it has been criticized for some bad things that are featured in the book. However, what I forgot to mention was how there was a theme that resonated throughout the book series, which was the importance of human life. When you really think about it that is the most important aspect that we as writers can bring to our writing is how important life can be. Let’s go back to looking at my favorite example that I have mentioned on here several times, The Hunger Games. Yes, as much as the book mentions death, there is still deep down the underlying theme that life is important. This comes up in the second book when Katniss is touring the other districts and she brings up Rue, who reminded her of her sister, Primrose. The thing that we find is how tragic her death was how Katniss is reminded of it again and again how Rue’s life was cut short and what could have been for Rue.

Granted, that is not a happy example of how important life is, but when you think about some of the other books that we read, like Charlotte’s Web. Fern really brings up in the first few pages that life is precious and that if she was a runt her family would not have disregarded like her father was going to do with the pig, who would become Wilbur.

But as much as these examples, show the importance of human life, we as authors can show the same through our characters. Yes, we have death in our stories, but at the same time, we need to show the balance of how life is important too and all the great things that come from living. Think back to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, yes, Charlie Bucket’s life was doom and gloom but once he entered the chocolate factory he got to experience the wonder that was the factory. The same can be said of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy enters Oz and sees Muchkin City for the first time or even the Emerald City for that matter. These are wonders that they got to experience in their lives. I’m not taking away from Alice, but we did not find the same wonder that was explained to the reader as we did with Charlie or Dorothy for that matter.

That’s one thing that we need to do as readers, which is to show the wonder that can found in fiction let alone fantasy. As much as I like and love Game of Thrones or The Hunger Games, there is still something that can be said when a world can take a hold of you and show you the wonder that can make your imagination soar and show that life can be wonderful once you find that bit of magic.

The Importance of Twilight

Again I was roaming around Facebook and someone brought up how Twilight is a terrible book series. Yes, we know it has vampires that sparkle in the sun, and a love triangle. But at the heart of Twilight Stephanie Meyer’s had a way of adding a historical/background perspective to her vampire characters. Yes, we know part of it was written really bad but when you really analyze the series there were some good parts of the story and some bad parts of the story. The one of which for me was that Jacob was very insecure and acted like a whiney baby, which I was so over throughout most of the third book.

But given how Twilight has been received, there are several books that are looked in the very same way. Granted, not all work of fiction can be perfect but there are some bright shiny things to consider in those that might not be the best. Take the Hunger Games, which I really enjoy, however, one of the biggest criticisms of the series is that author could not come up with an ending. While I disagree with that, I think that in the second book, the ending felt rushed. It was like she had to quickly finish it so that she could work on the third and last book of the series, which was by far the most emotional book in the series.

Every book has its ups and downs but at the same time, we must remember as we are not perfect no book is perfect for books are written by humans. I remember reading Charlotte’s Web, not too long ago and thinking to myself how bad it was to read, but then I remembered at one point in time I enjoyed the book as a child, so what changed? The answer is I grew up and I read other books to come to what I understood what I now do not like about Charlotte’s Web. But if you have read any children’s books lately, the biggest problem that I have with them is that they don’t have a true ending. It likes they go and then all of a sudden they stop and you are sitting there doing this is it. I read this just to go how does it end? When in reality there is no true ending, which is just plain sad.

We as writers need to look at other writers and their works and look at the good and the bad of them. But at the same time, we can take what they did so well or not so well and improve upon those items in our own writing. This is the beauty of studying the craft of writing is that we can take something and work on it or improve on it.

 

How should we as writers think about our Novels?

Lately, as I’ve been working on the Raven Prophecy, some ideas have come to mind about what sort of posts should I write on here, and this has been one that has been toying in the back of my mind. When we sit down to write, we think about what words we should use or how a character might say something at a current moment, but we should be thinking more deeply about our work. I’m saying that our novel should be political but thinking about how our work will be analyzed in the future. Furthermore, how do we add depth to our writing and add those hidden meanings?

If you want a great example of this, look at Wicked by Gregory Macguire. Yes, Wicked in its soul is an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, but when you really start to read the book or even the series you start to notice that the Wicked series is heavily political. This Oz is hugely political and the biggest point of contention in this Oz is the idea of Animals versus animals. Animals are the ones that can talk, such as is the case with the Couderly Lion. The other more latter, animals are the ones that don’t talk. In the heart of this political contention is the point that Animals are being treated just like regular animals, and furthermore, due to this fact, a civil war of such is brewing against the Wizard of Oz. Now you can take this can compare it to other times when civil liberties have been discriminated against other races. This is a bigger meaning that has been adding to the subtext of a novel.

How do we do this as writers? Very carefully, for we can make it a subpoint or a main point of the book. It is the course of the novel the point is there and it either helps drive the character on the actions that he/she will take or it will be a small driving force for the character. A great example of this is the Hunger Games. When looking at the Hunger Games Katniss main driving force is to protect Prim, however, as we go further into the books we realize that the there is a war brewing within the smaller districts against President Snow and the bigger, more powerful districts. Katniss sees that Snow is a threat to her and as she goes on the victory tour to the other districts she starts to notice the seeds of the war and destruction. But still, one thing is her main driving force, and that is to protect her sister, Prim. Yes, she becomes a symbol for the war but she never really wanted it but she becomes it in order to end Snow’s reign, but when she sees that the seeds of what Snow started will continue with the new regime she puts a stop to it by shooting it with an arrow. But of course, this is when her main driving force is no longer there and the only thing that she has left is to become a tool for the war.

Yes, we should tell stories, but when we add subplots to our stories we are giving them both depth and life. I’m not saying that you have to be political unless that is what your story needs but just add a bit more to it to give it flavor. If you want another great example of this you can use a tool, like the ring of power in the Lord of the Rings. The ring is not only a magic ring, but it can be seen as a drug. A good, for nothing drug. It is an addiction that must be destroyed by fire. The ring represents the thing that everyone wants, it can also be looked as money and power, but deep down when you have tasted that addiction, you want more and you keep going back for more. In the case of the ring, it allows the holder of the ring to have a naturally long life, furthermore, it also makes the holder of the ring a target for the dark lord. There are so many ways that you can look at the ring but that is what adds depth to the story.

I say look at your writing and look at how you can add depth and subplots to your story to make it breathe and make your readers think. That should be how we look at our writing, our novels, and the stories that we tell.

The Start of a New Week…Heroes

It’s the start of a new week, and if you are counting the week’s until Christmas there are six, which also means that we start a new year in seven weeks. Not that I want to talk about the holidays again, this week I want to start a focus on character. The best character to talk about first is the hero of our story.

Heroes come in all shames and sizes and there are different types of heroes. There is the hero that we all route for, such as Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games Series. As we study Katniss we first know that if she was put up against the wall that she will protect her sister this is clearly seen by her volunteering to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games. She is also a hero that didn’t want to be idolized but she is put in the position by the actions that she took in the games. We know that her greatest enemy in the series is President Snow; however, in the last book Snow is replaced by President Coin, who is the President of District 13. Katniss from the second book and well into the third always said that she wanted to be the one to kill Snow. However, in a surprising twist of fate she kills Coin and the people finish off Snow, who was already dying from drinking poison over the years. Katniss is also the hero that we can see struggle with the defining moments of war, in other words she developes PTSD from her being part in the Hunger Games in the first book. The PTSD is clearly shown in the second and third books. Is she a hero that we feel sorry for? No, we feel that she is a strong hero for she wants the Hunger Games to end, and the only way that she could end them was to get rid of Snow and Coin. But really when we look at Katniss she is the hero that we route for in that we want to her to win the games in the first book, we want her to win in the second book, and we want to reach her end goal in the third book. You can also say that as we go on this journey with Katniss, we also want her to have her happy ending and we are happy to see her get it.

So as we read literature, we should look at all the different heroes or characters that we route for and why do we route for them? In the end we really want them to survive the story and get their happy ending in the end.

I hope that you have liked this first discussion on hero. Tomorrow, I will talk about the heroes that are of circumstance, which means that they did not choose what made them a hero.