Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript: You Cut The Backstory

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Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript 2: You Cut the Backstory

I don’t need backstory. I don’t want it. Neither will your readers.

It’s crucial for you, the author, to know your subjects and backstory better than anyone. But writing isn’t a test. You don’t need to show your work. Manuscripts I love respect my intelligence and don’t patronize me by feeding me backstory.

There are a lot of things I don’t need to know in order to enjoy a tale. Show me what’s happening. Know it doesn’t matter to me that your protagonist graduated first in her class from Harvard in 2005 and is an expert on North African Pre-Egyptian fossils, which her dead but much-loved grandfather inspired her to study. Show her in action and I know she’s an expert. Keep my interest by leaving her history unsaid until it’s pertinent.

The backstory rule also applies to historical, technical and mythical/magical information. You as a writer need to know every detail of pertinent information for your tale. If your story takes place in the Ottoman Empire in the thick of World War I, you better do your historical research, and probably study the military hardware of the time too. If you’re writing a speculative fiction piece, you need to know how the warp drive your ships use and the phasers your ships fire work. But after doing all your research or technical development, it’s tempting to tell it all as soon as something is referenced.

Don’t do it.

Here you need to know the target audience for your work a little bit. Some historical fiction readers want to get deeper in the historical weeds, and some science fiction readers want to go further under the hood. But ultimately the important thing for the reader is what these items do, not how they do it, or how life is during the time period, not how it got that way. You as author need to know these things so you can add background detail, explain when necessary, and, above all, avoid inconsistencies. Even if a reader doesn’t understand the technology or history, he or she will spot an inconsistency immediately. (“I have no idea how shields or transporters work, but I thought you couldn’t use a transporter through shields!”)

Too many times a good manuscript goes off the rails when the author starts to dump in backstory about characters, history or technology. It slows the narrative to a crawl, and most of the information I don’t need. Accept that I, and your readers, will appreciate your exhaustive research and backstory without needing to know it.

 

My Star Wars trailer takeaway: Han Solo is a grumpy old codger

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Everybody has seen the latest trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In case you are that one person who didn’t see it (or not, in which case it’s likely you want to see it again), here it is:

I admit it, I loved it. It’s already better than the prequels. (And yes, despite popular opinion about Revenge of the Sith, I think they’re all terrible movies.) But I found myself ruminating afterward not on all the awesome in the trailer, but on the end, specifically the moment when the one and only Han Solo says, “Chewie… we’re home.”

Before you jump to share my excitement, I focused on it not in the way that most of the fan boys and girls do. Han Solo is… old. It’s been close to forty years, man. And it’s not the years, it’s the mileage. He’s wearing an outfit almost identical to the one he wore four decades before. Hell, it might be the same ol’ trusty duds that saw him through that unfortunate carbonite incident back on Bespin. He’s still driving the same jalopy that was a piece of junk forty years before, when he still had the edge to keep it in top form with his special modifications. To put it in terms of a time right now, in a galaxy we’re in right here, he’s driving and wearing this, today.

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Sell old blue? They don’t make ’em like her these days! Let’s see you play my 8-tracks over your Blueteeth thingamawhatsit or whatever the hell you kids are using.

In short, Han Solo is my grandpa. The old codger on his porch with his blaster pistol screaming “Get off my lawn!” at the rascally Ewoks that have moved in to his neighborhood.

I may be wrong. Along with Captain Kirk and James Bond, Han Solo defined manhood and cool for me growing up. The first two examples have aged quite well. I can only hope Han will do the same.

But until I see Han once again shooting first in the cantinas of The Force Awakens, the image of the grumpy old smuggler that time has passed by won’t leave me. Let’s just hope Lando Calrissian doesn’t show up in the next trailer, kicking back a Colt 45 and playing holographic cribbage with his buddies Han and Chewie in the Falcon’s assisted living compartment.

Let’s launch this baby

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I have plans for this site. Ten chapters (currently) of my Hunters novel give me ten weeks of content, as well as weekly blog posts on my published works, parenting tips, writing and editing advice, book reviews, news on my daily Multiple Sclerosis challenges and general Mariners and Seahawks talk. Stay tuned. Big things, people.