Posts Tagged Kristen Lamb
Just in from teaching in Seattle and have NO VOICE. Hubby is a little more thrilled than he should probably show O_o. Anyway, the wonderful Piper Bayard is here for some more writing tips for those who want to NaNo. Even if you don’t? Backstory is ALWAYS a bugger. Kinda like in dating. Be mysterious, yet not weird, yet not clingy and OH DEAR GOD HE IS NEVER
CALLING BACK TURNING THE NEXT PAGE…..
By Piper Bayard
NaNo season will soon be upon us. Speaking from experience, it is totally possible to write a solid first draft of a novel in one month, but only if you’re prepared. Now is the time to prepare.
First, give yourself permission to suck. Accept the fact that your first drafts are always going to suck. Everyone’s first drafts suck. That’s why God made editors. Perfectionism and over-editing during the first draft only make us all suck more in the long run. As Supreme Court Justice Brandeis said, “There is no great writing, only great re-writing.” Your books won’t be great until they suck.
Maureen Johnson says it best. Dare to Suck!
Now that you’re keyed in to your sucking, you can get down to work to prevent unnecessary suckage. The best thing you can do to minimize your suckage is to know your story before you write it.
We’ve all read books with page after page of backstory. Okay, we’ve all skimmed books with page after page of backstory. Where does that extra verbiage come from, and why does the author put it in? Easy. Excessive backstory is the visible evidence that the writer is telling herself her story. That backstory is there for her, not for us. It means she didn’t know what she was writing about before she started writing.
I know what you’re thinking. But I’m a pantser! My story must be unsullied by forethought!
Forethought this. Writing is an art, but publishing is a business. Any successful business requires forethought.
We all write for different reasons: therapy, because it’s easier than talking, therapy, because we love words, therapy, because we’re unemployed, therapy, because it’s the closest thing we have to talking to adults while we care for our babies, therapy, because stories are swirling inside our heads and must get out, therapy, because a world where we don’t write is simply inconceivable. And some others write for therapy. Regardless of our reasons, forethought is our most powerful tool for shaping a story and actually getting it on the page.
Here comes the surprise portion of this dissertation. When I’m talking about forethought, I’m not necessarily talking about plotting, though I personally find plotting indispensible. I’m talking about people. The characters.
(For all you sci-fi folks, you have a little extra work. Read through this article a second time and exchange the word “characters” for “world building” so that you don’t have to tell us how the planet was formed in the belly of a lizard and coughed out in the hairball of the cat that ate the lizard on the night the cat was locked out of the house because it had gotten mad when it’s owner ran out of soft food and only gave it hard food so it had peed on its owner’s clean laundry. In other words, you need to know your characters and your world before you start.)
The single best way to eliminate backstory is to know your characters and, therefore, your backstory, before you ever start your draft.
- How old are they when the book starts?
- What do they look like?
- Where were they born?
- Where did they grow up?
- Did they go to school? Where?
- What is their religion? Do they believe it, practice it, play along with it, or reject it?
- Are they city or rural? Which city? Which country?
- What were their relationships with their parents?
- What were their parents’ occupations and educational levels?
- Who was their first love? How did it end?
- What were the watershed events in their lives, and how did your characters change because of these events?
- How did they meet the other characters?
- What are they afraid of?
- What are their inner conflicts?
- What do they want?
- Who is keeping them from getting what they want?
- Absolutely anything else you can think of to ask about your characters.
In other words, don’t just know your serial killer Terrell is a psychopath. Understand exactly how Terrell became a psychopath, what sort of a psychopath he is, and why he is where he is when the book starts.
Do this for your antagonist, your minions, your protagonist, your love interest, your allies, your mentors, and anyone else who has more than twenty lines.
So how does knowing all of this about my characters minimize my backstory?
Thank you for asking.
The answer is summed up in another quote, this time from Hemingway. “. . . you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted, and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.” In other words, you can leave out anything as long as you know what you’re leaving out.
This is twice-true with backstory. So if you don’t know your backstory, you can’t leave it out. On the other hand, if you DO know it, you don’t feel compelled to put it in, because you don’t have to tell yourself your own story while you’re writing it. You can focus on telling your story to your readers instead.
As an added bonus, when you know your characters, they will tell you your plot. You never have to wonder what’s going to happen next, because your characters will behave in characteristic fashion. You avoid moments of “Oh, no! What is Frida going to do now that Gomez has left her?” Easy. Look at Frida’s character profile, and let her do what Frida would do. If she’s a whiny brat, let her whine. If she has anger management issues, let her hunt down Gomez and run over him with her car. If you know your characters, your plot is less likely to leave you hanging.
Let me reassure you of this method with a little of my own backstory. My first manuscript SUCKED. No, seriously. It sucked with capital letters. In fact, Kristen edited it and spent five hours (count ’em—five) on the phone telling me just how bad it sucked. It is now being used for enhanced interrogations at Guantanamo, and no one has lasted past page 25. The US Navy sends me thank you notes and cookies for my birthday each year.
Out of 157,000 words (really) I threw out all but five—a, and, the, but, or—and I started over by getting to know my characters. That’s because Kristen didn’t just tell me my book sucked. She told me how to fix it. I highly recommend you listen to her writing advice. She knows what she is talking about.
When I sat down to re-write the book, I discovered something. I naturally left out everything except the actual story. It was an epiphany. As a result, I have a far better story. That book became my debut dystopian thriller, FIRELANDS.
Now, I’m writing spy thrillers with Jay Holmes, who is a forty-year veteran covert operative and a senior member of the intelligence community. Our debut novella, THE SPY BRIDE, is in the Bestsellers’ Collection RISKY BRIDES, where we join USA Today Bestsellers Vicki Hinze, Rita Herron, Donna Fletcher, Peggy Webb, and Kathy Carmichael, and veteran authors Kimberly Llewellyn and Tara Randel to share our unique take on what it means to be a risky bride. 8 novels and novellas—8 genres—8 RISKY BRIDES. RISKY BRIDES releases today for only $.99 and is available for a limited time at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and Kobo.
To celebrate our release, Holmes and I will give away one copy of RISKY BRIDES to someone who comments below. To determine the winner, I will put the names of everyone who comments below in a hat and have my daughter draw one out at random on Friday, October 24, at 9:00 p.m. Mountain Time.
And to celebrate going from super-suck to published authors, Holmes and I will also be giving away three prizes—a Secret Decoder Ring, a stash of Ghirardelli chocolate, and a bottle of Mumm Napa sparkling wine—to three randomly selected subscribers to our newsletter on November 27. Sign up now for the Bayard & Holmes newsletter to enter.
What are your issues with backstory? Do you develop your characters before you write? Do you have any questions for me?
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Piper Bayard is an author, bellydancer, shooter, SCUBA diver, and a recovering attorney with a college degree or two. She writes spy thrillers with Jay Holmes, a forty-year veteran covert operative and a current senior member of the intelligence community. Piper is the public face of their partnership.
I was a BORN entrepreneur, and blessedly was a child of the 70s and 80s. I always had a business from the time I was four. My first venture? Selling my “art.” I got a Spirograph for Christmas and two types of paper, regular and legal. I’d spend hours crafting my original designs and then set out door-to-door (after cartoons and Sesame Street ended). Legal-size art was .15, regular was .5. Or you could buy all I’d made and I’d promise to go away for $1.
Once little brother came along, this increased my workforce. We washed cars, weeded gardens, trimmed hedges, picked up dog poop and at the end of the day, I’d split all we’d made 50/50. Our most profitable venture involved hoeing up crabgrass for $5 a bag. There is a LOT of crabgrass in SW Fort Worth. Was pitiless work in triple-digit heat, but everyone eagerly paid up.
I knew my market. Our neighborhood was working poor or elderly and we offered excellent work for a fair price. My mother and grandfather had taught us how to slay crabgrass properly by the time we were tall enough to hold a yard tool. Get those babies at the ROOTS. First rain will even the holes. Beautiful yard will soon ensue.
My little brother and I were also the precursor to the ATM. Mom and Dad knew we were always flush with cash. It wasn’t uncommon for us to have $50-$100 or more. Back then the banks were open three hours a day at the worst time, so if my parents needed quick cash? We were there…for a small service fee.
Family is family, but business is business.
What makes this extraordinary, is my little brother was legally blind. God help the kids who picked on him. They had ME to contend with (only I could call him a dork). I remember him being 5 and crying when he got his first glasses. He didn’t know trees had leaves.
I was a tough boss, though. You can feel the crabgrass. GET IT!
Everything is possible. Though Little Bro attended the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Florida, blessedly, his vision drastically improved once he hit adulthood (so did optics/lenses). Now he’s the owner-CEO of his own successful company (and a devoted father, husband and involved in his City Council). In college, even though his vision was corrected, he volunteered countless hours translating books into braille and became fluent in ASL.
The Elementary Enigma
Okay, back to 1980 when I began grade school. I recall being baffled the day I entered the class and there were stacks of these cardboard boxes with a handle. We were all required to take at least one, sell all the contents then turn in all money to “support the school.” Problem was, no one in the educational system knew about a SWOT analysis.
Strengths—Cute kid selling candy.
Weakness—Over-saturation of cute kids concentrated in the same geographical area selling an unwanted/unnecessary product for an obviously inflated price. Our market was working poor. Yes, they’d pay $5 for some kid to hoe up crabgrass for two hours, but $3 for a candy bar that cost less than $1?
And then there was the repeated lecture about how they paid property taxes to support schools and shouldn’t have to buy candy, stale popcorn balls, yada yada yada.
Opportunities—Make teacher happy. Yeah, probably not. Sunburn? Mace? Potential abduction? Okay, I had nothing.
Threats—Other than the blatantly obvious over-saturated market, there were the roving packs of feral Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Brownies to contend with. Highly territorial and taught how to tie knots and set fires. And people waited all year for Girl Scout cookies. They were/are like the crack of the “kids selling stuff world.”
Customer: $20 for Thin Mints???? *twitches and scratches arms* *eyes VCR and tempted to rewire it* All I have is $19. PLEASE. I can get you the $1 on payday! You gotta help me out, Kid.
Girl Scout: Okay, this time. But the price is now $25 and I want Barbie clothes.
Girl Scout: I know where you live.
Customer: *nods and shambles off with cookies tucked under coat*
The worst part of it is I was no stranger to working my tail off, but I at least was able to tangibly enjoy the fruit of my labors…with CASH. None of this existential “support your school” crap, a school that I had determined by Age 5 was a front for fascism.
The Band Candy Bandit
As I grew older, new threats appeared, namely the little brother who’d once been such a loyal business partner. I was in the band and required to sell ridiculously priced Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (again for some nebulous end). Apparently the siren’s song of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups was stronger than sibling loyalty. He couldn’t see them, but his sense of smell was greatly enhanced O_o.
Mom and I woke to an 8-year-old passed out in a sugar coma, surrounded by brown and orange wrappers.
My poor single mother somehow scratched together the $100 to give to the school, though I felt they should have just locked little bro up and solved ALL our problems. He did the crime and could pay the time…and I’d no longer have to contend with him hiding my art supplies in the field behind out house just to tick me off.
Brave New Parenting
These days, sending your kids off to knock on strangers’ doors all alone isn’t nearly as acceptable. Thus, every storefront becomes a trap of “sad face” where you don’t dare make eye contact. I mumble something about food allergies and skirt past feeling like a jerk.
When Hubby was at a corporate job, every office worker had a kid selling something through their dealer (the poor parent who probably still suffers peanut cluster flashbacks). One year, we had so many Girl Scout cookies I banned Hubby from answering the door. He was helpless in the face of a cute kid. Between everything bought from family, the office and our front door? We were staring down the barrel of a second mortgage.
I will say that I love supporting kids. I buy what I can, even if I am deathly allergic. I remember being in that position and how hard it was. What I really love are the authentic small business owners. One day, I opened the door and three little girls stood there. They were selling magnets they’d made themselves.
I noticed the tiniest of the girls (she was elf-small) hid behind the others and I coaxed her out. She was missing an arm. Fumbling, she said they’d started their business to make money for extras their parents couldn’t afford. She couldn’t pull weeds or mow yards, but she could help make and sell magnets. She’d hidden because she didn’t want me to see her missing arm.
I bought their entire inventory.
And I’d have done that anyway. It had nothing to do with the one girl’s appearance. She’d done everything she could to support her sales team and NOT use her “disability” for sympathy sales.
I was so genuinely impressed with their hard work. They’d done their research. These were beautiful magnets that cost next to nothing. We all need pretty magnets. Magnets aren’t fattening and there is little competition. I wanted to support these future business owners the way my neighbors coughed up change for my silly Spirograph “art.”
Their grandmother was waiting in the car and I strolled out to praise her, and who was the CFO sitting in the back seat? Big brother. I donated an additional $30 as an angel investment. Big brother (11) ran the numbers and kept track of sales. My heart still flutters when I think of this story.
The Special Circumstances
I love kids. I’d adopt all of them if I could. It’s why I love that I’m called the W.A.N.A. Mama, because I can be den mother for countless writers. Also, we’re more than writers. We are people and many of us are parents. We have struggles and sickness and setbacks, but the cool news is we have each other.
And yes, I have something to sell. I almost never do this even for myself beyond a blip at the bottom about my book or upcoming classes. You’ve been warned, but I think this “sale” is a tad extraordinary.
Last Friday on Facebook, one of the WANAs was terribly discouraged. Her son has Down Syndrome and the school has tasked the kids/parents with selling ninja cookie cutters. His mom, Leona (a WANA) only asked if I could buy some cookie cutters. I was the one who offered to blog and talk to you guys.
I KNOW many of the writers in my community have special needs kids or grandkids and it is one of the toughest jobs in the world. We applaud you for your love and all your tireless work. This is the least I can do, beyond buying cookie cutters when I never bake :D .
Leona sent me this note after I offered to help:
Isaac is five years old with Down Syndrome. He’s recently moved to new school as we were able to get out of bad living situation. He’s doing beautifully. The new school provides many specialized services, like speech, resource rooms for extra tutoring, etc., and not just for the special ed kids.
It’s a good district. Unlike the old schools that acted as if I’d murdered their grandmother when asking for help or asking why something had happened this way or that, they are friendly, helpful, and happy to serve you and your children to getting a better education. All three of my kids have done so well in the new schools. They’re all happier, less depressed, and more focused, so I really appreciate your help in this.
The money is for the Gilbert Elementary PTA. They put on barbeques, and other family oriented things for the children and families to do things. They do a great job. The parents are relaxed and don’t look stressed, the teachers are helpful. I believe they play an integral part to keeping the community relations happily together with the schools goals.
I appreciate you doing this as it will help Isaac garner some recognition, which though he won’t completely understand the whys of it, he will be happy with the positive attention. I’ve included a picture of him playing at the park before his back to school hair cut (BELOW)…
How can you help? Maybe buy some cookie cutters or share this blog or the information below with those in desperate need of ninja cookie cutters :D .
To support #TeamIssac go to the Cherrydale Farm site and enter the following information:
Student Name: Isaac Bushman
School: Gilbert Elementary PTA
Group code (It will automatically fill in, but just in case): FRGILYW
And then if you hit continue, you can shop and Isaac will get credit.
Thank you for being here and for your support even if it is a comment or a share. Love and potential are limitless.
I LOVE hearing from you!
Did your school force you to sell overpriced stuff? Did you dread the tins of popcorn? Do you have kids and groan when they come home with candy bars? Is your office crammed with desperate parents trying to offload candles, greeting cards and chocolate? Yeah, sorry to add more peer pressure (ok, not really). Are you a tad shocked you weren’t held captive by that creepy neighbor with the van, but knocked on his door anyway because you had to make your quota?
To prove it and show my love, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner for a a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
All comments today are in a separate contest so less competition and a much greater chance of winning :D.