Tuesday, 4 January 2011

B is for Back Story

How important is a Back story? In a novel there is plenty of time to develop an idea, heaps of opportunity to relay information from different view points through various characters but, in a short story I feel it’s important to get to the heart of the matter and however nice a back story might be to have, it can detract from the main thrust of events. Naturally, I try to please all my readers all the time but ultimately I want to thrill a publisher or an editor or an agent. And what if I get precious about being told to cut my work, however well written, the story line I thought was useful and helpful back information. It’s tough.

The hard part of writing for me is learning to accept that readers don’t need to know everything about my characters. Hopefully if I am a good enough writer, who is adept at developing my characters, the actions and voices of these characters will deliver the missing back story that I have been so keen to share. I have to learn to choose to be careful and include only the salient points, not bombard my poor reader with the finer points and get bogged down in my back story.

I believe a short story is different because it needs to capture a moment in time. In the short space permitted it is vital that the stage setting is limited to subtle hints since there is a danger, that as the writer I can talk myself into the story. Fill in the blanks so to speak. As if to ease my reader into the seat, perhaps I’m asking the reader; are you ready? Then I’ll begin. Just in case my readers, weren’t paying attention.

Recently, I was advised to remove sections of work that were apparently well written but unnecessary, by an editor. Of course I could have reworked the removed passages back in to the story at a later stage, but this didn’t feel right either. The first time I was offered this advice, I balked! Got a tad precious about my ramblings and summarized the section instead, but in essence my back story stayed.

The second time the same advice was offered it didn’t come as quite such a shock to me and it did make more sense this time so I bit the bullet, removed a swathe of my perfectly written words. Ouch! It did hurt. But it worked.

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