Backstory: The More You Know, The Less I Have To

Just in from teaching in Seattle and have NO VOICE. Hubby is a little more thrilled than he should probably showO_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.

Typical NaNoWriMo Writing Space

Typical NaNoWriMo Writing Space

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.

Canstock 2014 Oct Rabbit therapy cartoon

 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.

Ernest Hemingway determining what to leave out. Photo at his home in Cuba, c. 1953 JFK Presidential Library, Boston, public domain

Ernest Hemingway determining what to leave out.
Photo at his home in Cuba, c. 1953
JFK Presidential Library, Boston, public domain

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.

Frida was here.

Frida was here.

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.

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Boxed Set final Cover

 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?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

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.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

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  1. #1 by Kristen on October 22, 2014 - 9:31 am

    Subscribed to your newsletter. Not sure if I’m angling for the decoder ring or the Ghiradelli, though. Wait, definitely the Ghiradelli. Great post!🙂

  2. #3 by Deborah on October 22, 2014 - 9:34 am

    Great, sage advice. To me a story is action, backstory is motivation. So, story exemplifies backstory. Yes, I haven’t had my coffee yet, so cut me some slack here:) And, if you need some of the backstory to filter in, if you need a little extra emotional hook for your readers, then a sentence or two in dialogue (external or even internal) is fine…but no more. What the characters do shows the readers who they are. I’ll quit here, coffee is calling. Thank you for your insights!

    • #4 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:20 am

      “To me a story is action, backstory is motivation.” What a great way to put it! Enjoy your coffee.

  3. #5 by KM Huber on October 22, 2014 - 9:35 am

    Stellar post, Piper! As for backstory, this sentence says it all for me: “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.” I was a pantser but I am now a pantser with purpose. Works for me. Really looking forward to reading the bride novellas.
    Karen

    • #6 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:21 am

      Thank you, Karen. I like the idea of a pantser with purpose.

  4. #7 by Katie Cross on October 22, 2014 - 9:42 am

    You can probably hear my groans from here because I just got halfway into my current WIP on the 3rd draft, realized I hadn’t “firmed up” my backstory for my villain, and wrote a list of scenes to start writing today that will never hit the light of day in my MS, but couldn’t find motivation.

    Then I saw this in my inbox and bam! Now I have to be accountable. Thanks Piper!

    • #8 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:23 am

      LOL. Glad I could help. And good for you for facing the hard facts. It will be so much easier in the long run.

  5. #9 by Laurie on October 22, 2014 - 9:42 am

    Interesting to read how if you know your characters the plot will write itself. Looking forward to reading your spy novels.

  6. #11 by Laura on October 22, 2014 - 9:53 am

    Well, this just makes me think the first draft I wrote was probably better than the second draft… I had all my backstory/world building done, but then I had a beta reader who did not understand basically ANYTHING. Another did, but I was still frustrated and revised the whole thing, adding in new, omniscient characters (the Fates) who watch everything and comment on it and basically explain the things that reader didn’t get. They’re my comic relief, though (they break the fourth wall), and I love them, so I hate to get rid of them.
    Argh.
    Well, it’s sent to a few more beta readers now. I guess I’ll see what they say…
    I am so shooting for the decoder ring. I subscribed to you guys a while back, though, does that count?🙂

    • #12 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:29 am

      Beta readers are indispensable, but contradictory feedback can be confusing. Whenever I have conflicting feedback, I get a tie breaker opinion. Ultimately, though, we are the masters of our pages.

      A bit of unsolicited advice: Never keep anything just because you love it. That’s called a Little Darling. If you really love it, but it isn’t serving this book, put it in your next book.🙂

      Thank you for your subscription! It absolutely counts. Good luck!🙂

      • #13 by Laura on October 22, 2014 - 12:31 pm

        Ugh, I thought of that phrase later. The problem right now is that after so many times of going through it (second official revision, but I revised it more than that before it was “done”), the scenes with the Fates are the only ones I like… lol.

        I have one friend who hasn’t read much of it, but doesn’t like any of it because it has a romance subplot. I started writing a version from a secondary character’s pov, and that’s what he thinks I should write, and scrap the rest. So I guess a lot just depends on taste…

        • #14 by Deborah on October 22, 2014 - 12:40 pm

          Okay, this isn’t my blog, but I REALLY want to address this–sorry Kristin and Piper, please forgive. I have a friend, a wonderful writer, who has gotten sidetracked and lost her story more times than I can say all because of a comment from a well-meaning friend. Your story is YOUR story. Write the story you hear, the one you know in your heart, the one you are desperate to tell. Some folks will get it. Some won’t. That’s the way it is. But, if you allow yourself to be pulled hither and yon catering to individual tastes you’ll lose YOUR story and will be left with nothing. How do I know? The first book I sold was the one I wrote after I stopped listening to what others thought I should write,what my story should be, and wrote the story in my heart. That book was a NYT Notable Crime Novel. I’m now writing the 6th in that series….

          • #15 by Laura on October 22, 2014 - 1:03 pm

            Thank you.🙂 And congratulations!

          • #16 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 1:06 pm

            I agree, Deborah. I take all comments under consideration, but unless a comment really resonates with me, I don’t consider changing anything unless more than one person has made the same comment. Even then, I might not change it. Thank you for joining in.

            • #17 by Laura on October 22, 2014 - 1:20 pm

              Maybe I should point out that I’ve had a really hard time finding beta readers. I have the one friend who thinks I should be doing hard sci-fi, when the book is really a humorous time travel/romance/spy type novel about a girl who happens to be the daughter of a Greek goddess, so, much as I adore him, I really only go to him with questions about starships and colonizing planets… I’ve asked a few old friends to beta read but they never had time. So my revision was based on two readers with completely different reactions. I now have two more beta readers lined up, plus my brother, which is REALLY intimidating since he has a master’s in creative writing and we just don’t talk about writing… I think I have found another one, and I think I am going to just go ahead and pay someone to critique it, too.

              So I haven’t had a “large gene pool,” so to speak, of opinions to pull from so far.🙂

              • #18 by Deborah on October 22, 2014 - 1:29 pm

                Finding beta readers/critiquers is SO difficult, yet so essential, at least to me. In my world it takes a village to write a GOOD book:) I’ve found some at local writing groups (MWA and SinC for me–and now I’ve just finished a women’s fiction/contemporary romance story–I’m my own worst enemy). One found me on FB. Friends and family, forget about them. Look for readers who read and/or blog or whatever in your genre. Many are often very honored to be asked. You don’t have to know them personally, and sometimes it’s better if you don’t. You want honest, unvarnished CONSTRUCTIVE feedback. People you don’t know are more likely not to have an emotional/ego investment, so will be more honest (in theory). Developmental editors are also an option as you said.

              • #19 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 1:29 pm

                Finding good beta readers can definitely be a challenge. I found all of my beta readers at writers conferences. Nothing beats those mass gatherings for finding like minds.🙂

            • #20 by Deborah on October 22, 2014 - 1:31 pm

              Agreed! It must resonate. And I usually like to see several folks mention it before I really take it seriously. Sometimes one can get trapped into moving words around but not making the story any better. I’m so anal I could get caught in this bit of quicksand until the second coming, so I have to be very careful:)

  7. #21 by Calisa Rhose on October 22, 2014 - 10:20 am

    Nice to meet you Piper (and Jay). I laughed at your personal backstory. Sorry, but I did. Your first ms sounds like mine. My cp constantly begged me not to shoot the messenger with each round of crits. It still got rejected.🙂 I’ve actually gotten better and published two books since that day almost ten years ago. Wow, ten years! This is perfect advice. I know my characters usually, but there are a few who won’t talk so I have so rewriting to do once that first draft is finished, but it works for me. Back story is my issue though. I tend not to add enough or where it needs to be.

    Signed up for your newsletter.

    • #22 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:30 am

      Nice to meet you, too, Calisa, and feel free to laugh at my backstory. I certainly do.🙂

      Thank you for your subscription. Good luck!

  8. #23 by symplysilent on October 22, 2014 - 10:29 am

    Hi Piper, you affirmed my faith in understanding my characters. I often spend a number of days creating them before screen testing them. I like to pick a Myers Briggs type, use the Ackerman / Puglisi Thesauruses to populate their Moral Core, Achievement and Interactive layers, and Identity shell; then I pick one or two flaws to torture them through my story. Once I lay out their character arcs, I can trace their disintegration, epiphany, and rebirth. Their scenes almost write themselves.

    Thank you, Silent

    • #24 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:32 am

      I find the Ackerman/Publisi Thesauruses to be indispensable. They belong next to Strunk & White on my shelf. And I totally agree with you. Once we really know our characters, the scenes almost write themselves.

  9. #25 by Ruth Hartman Berge on October 22, 2014 - 10:42 am

    What a great article! I’ve been working diligently on my characters for a month. I’m thinking I may actually be able to write the darn book now. I heartily agree that knowing them well pretty much leads one through writing the story by the nose🙂 I’ve been hacking out back story with a machete on the first several rough, rough, rough drafts. Couldn’t resist the lure of the decoder ring – I signed up, too!

    • #26 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:34 am

      LOL. Good for you for your preparation! Thank you for your subscription. Good luck!

  10. #27 by Carrie on October 22, 2014 - 10:55 am

    Great article. I’m hoping to do NaNo again with this story idea dancing through my head. I definitely want to do some prelim writing like this before I jump in🙂

    • #28 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:34 am

      The stories that dance are the best ones.🙂

  11. #29 by Ruth Ann Nordin on October 22, 2014 - 11:10 am

    An option for pansters is to go ahead and write the backstory in but delete it once the first draft is done. This is how I have to write. I can’t know the characters until I actually write the story. I’ve tried to “know” them first, but they always change as I’m writing. So the best option for me (as a panster) is to go ahead and fill in all the backstory I need while I’m writing. Then when I go back and polish up the story, I take it all out because the crucial stuff gets added in other places where the readers actually need to know it. This is why I end up deleting a good 2-4K words in edits. 🙂

    Great post!

    • #30 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:35 am

      Thank you. All the best to you with your writing.🙂

  12. #31 by sao on October 22, 2014 - 11:27 am

    I’m struggling with where to start, which is also backstory. I’m writing a thriller and it’s hard to figure out what is the beginning and what is backstory that should be filtered in (or left out altogether).

    Or more precisely, is the scorching kiss backstory or plot?

    • #32 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:38 am

      I write thrillers. They require virtually no backstory in your book, but you need to know what it is. Start with the “crime.” Establish your normal world in the first few pages, and get straight to your inciting incident. Thrillers are all about pace, and backstory works against you and your reader. Hope that helps.🙂

  13. #33 by amandasnoseinabook on October 22, 2014 - 11:28 am

    Hi Piper &Jay! I’m currently working on really getting to know my characters back stories for NaNoWriMo and you’ve show me here just how important that really is! Thank you so much for the questionnaire that you shared with us, it will be very helpful when working out the dynamics between my protagonist and antagonist.

    • #34 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:41 am

      Hi, Amanda! Keep in mind that the list here is only partial. Keep thinking of questions. Question your characters as if you were thinking about marrying them or adopting them. Good luck!🙂

  14. #35 by Angie on October 22, 2014 - 11:31 am

    Great tips about NaNo and giving us freedom to suck at writing. I do that anyway, but now I have permission. Thanks!

    • #36 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:33 am

      LOL. You totally have permission. Even an NYT bestseller I know has a sign at his desk saying, “Today, I give myself permission to write crap.” You’re hanging with the best.🙂

  15. #37 by gilmiller on October 22, 2014 - 11:48 am

    As a pantser, I have to disagree to an extent. I discover my characters’ back stories as I write. The caveat here is that, when I edit, I then have to take a lot of that out–but that’s how I work. Thing is, as I get more experienced, I’ve learned which to include as I write and which to jot down in a notebook for my own information. The end result is my back story tends to creep in only when it’s needed. I’m nowhere near perfect at this of course, but I’ve come to suspect my subconscious plots and feeds it to me in bits and pieces because I think about stories for some time before I write them.

    However, the principle that back story bogs down a story is true. The trick is to use parts of the back story that apply to THIS story and forward it in some way. Everything else should stay in your notebook.

    • #38 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 1:30 pm

      “The trick is to use parts of the back story that apply to THIS story . . . ” Well put.🙂

  16. #39 by Vicki on October 22, 2014 - 12:02 pm

    Excellent post. I’m off to delete a whole lot of crap and go looking for my characters now

  17. #41 by charlaynedenney on October 22, 2014 - 12:18 pm

    I am a pantser but I will ALWAYS put down the details of what my character is, where they come from (and through) and that gives me a lot of freedom in picking what little pieces to drop into the story.

    I am a historian by training and I absolutely adore researching. If I let myself, I’ll have whole books of backgrounds and historical context. I always have to keep in mind that what *I* find fabulously interesting, my reader will curse my name trying to wade through. So, I drop little references into the story to give it flavor but not give the whole plot away.

    Lilly stood totally still, not even breathing because vampires did not really have to breathe. She had smelled that fragrance before, on a john who had come into Mahogany Hall when she was working for Miss Lulu. She didn’t trust him then and the only way he could be here now is because he was a vampire as well. Everything in her screamed to get moving, run, but she was rooted half in the past memories and half in the modern day. And he had spotted her.

    A little background and a foreshadowing. And I’m still pantsing it, that is not yet into my book and I have no idea which book in the series it will be in.

    • #42 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 1:32 pm

      LOL. Sort of like how we all find our own family histories fascinating, but no one else actually WANTS to hear them.

      Love your paragraph. May your muse be generous.🙂

  18. #43 by lalouziane on October 22, 2014 - 1:05 pm

    This makes me feel good. My first effort was over 100,000 words also… most of them… really bad. Not bad as in cussing… but… just awful. I rambled around… wasn’t sure where I was going… it took me a full year to get to know my characters well enough to write that story.

    It was on the Amazon bestseller list for over 9 months. First story, unknown author. I staggered around and re-wrote it 57 times and finally got it down to a reasonable story that some people have really enjoyed. It was the first of a series, and now my characters know me and I know them. They still reveal something that surprises me from time to time, but the story I want to write is their story, not mine.

    Articles like this make me feel so much better. I struggled, I cried over that first book. I ranted and raved. I was finally able to get a story out, the one I needed to tell. It’s been slightly easier with this second book.

    You do a great service to us all with articles like this. Thank you.

    • #44 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 1:34 pm

      Thank you. Sounds like you really pulled that story together in a big way. I’m glad to know It makes me feel better to hear your story, as well.🙂

  19. #45 by Peter on October 22, 2014 - 1:31 pm

    NaNo, NaNo season, All you NaNos out there … All you National Novels out there? Huh?

    Shouldn’t that be better served by saying “NoWri”, as in All you Novel Writers out there? I think it makes a lot more sense saying “NoWri” – what do all of you think?

  20. #46 by darcyflynn on October 22, 2014 - 2:05 pm

    Great post, Piper! I always learn “tons” from you! Put my name in the hat, dear!🙂

  21. #48 by ariefarnam on October 22, 2014 - 2:10 pm

    Thanks for an interesting article. The list of things to jot down about characters has some refreshing new ideas in it. I definitely agree on developing characters. I essentially developed my characters for twenty years and then wrote three books in three months and the first drafts weren’t that bad and the second drafts met with a lot of beta-reader enthusiasm. And the final product is collecting five-star reviews. But it wouldn’t have happened without knowing the characters. That said, I think the whole “start in the middle of the action” thing is often taken to extreme. I regularly put down books from boredom because they start in the middle of a violent or conflict scene that is completely pointless. It is pointless because the character is a rhetorical shadow. And if they are still a shadow and no real character has emerged within ten pages, I just have so many better books to read. Some readers do like that sort of thing. There are people who really like what they call “weapons porn” too. There are a lot of books out there for those readers. But there are many many readers who really do want to know a character first off before the violence starts. I love thrillers, dystopia, action stuff but I don’t like books that start with a “bang.” David Eddings was one of my favorite authors as a young adult. His main series starts off with half a book of a farm boy’s quiet life. It is written in an intriguing, fun and humorous way. There is mystery and hints of conflict, so it is far from boring or “slow.” But by the time the bad guys come along, you really care about the character. The same goes for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. And for LOTR for that matter. BUT “getting to know the character” doesn’t usually mean backstory. It is much more likely to mean “sensory and emotional detail.” You can sometimes do both action and character in the same opening scene, if you do detail well enough.

    • #49 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 5:12 pm

      I agree with being careful about the bang at the beginning. That’s why it’s so important to establish normal world first. However, I think it can be done in the first 10 pages or so for thrillers. So glad you’re finding your success.🙂

  22. #50 by robin witt on October 22, 2014 - 2:31 pm

    I’m currently revising my sucky first draft into something that is at least a real story – but I had to write the rough draft to figure out the story for my self. and then I had to delete over 100 pages (about a third of the total), so there was only the story left… removing extraneous crap from the crappy first draft like a sculptor chipping away the hunks of stone that Aren’t the statue. I think I need some of that stash of chocolate to keep me going… tehehehe.
    thanks for a helpful post! You were definitely right on about what I was doing in those extra 100 pages… learning the people, telling myself the story… and now, on this draft, I am starting to get less suck.

    • #51 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 5:13 pm

      LOL. Why, I do believe I hear a wind rushing by . . . It must be the suck flowing out of your manuscript.🙂

  23. #52 by N Frye on October 22, 2014 - 2:59 pm

    Thanks so much! I’m (sporadically) doing my pre-writing for NaNo and was wondering how much backstory to fuss over. Now I can run wild! Definitely subscribed to your newsletter and am very excited to read your “Risky Bride” novella. Count me in on the contests. Chocolate FTW.

    • #53 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:21 pm

      Go crazy wild with it! The backstory is unbridled creativity. Knock yourself out! And I’m so glad you’re entering the contests! Good luck.🙂

  24. #54 by sharrielynn on October 22, 2014 - 3:00 pm

    My first complete rough draft was a nightmare. It was everywhere, and there was a ton of backstory. Ugh. I planned and planned my next novel, I knew my characters before I started, and this time it wasn’t a nightmare to edit! Loved this post, and I totally agree!

    • #55 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:19 pm

      I’m a dedicated plotter now for the same reason. Glad you enjoyed the post.🙂

  25. #56 by Lee S. Hawke on October 22, 2014 - 3:26 pm

    Firstly – yes! Feeling a little bit of celebrity love here: I’ve been really enjoying the two of you separately (Kristen Lamb and Piper Bayard), so it’s epic to see you both together here!

    Ahem. Secondly, I found that extremely valuable. I’m that odd mix between pantser and planner, and I think my habit of pantsing on the characters is something that’s been letting me down. And I’ve never seen it but that way before, that excessive backstory is simply the author writing to themselves. A fantastic way of conceptualising it that will hopefully have me cutting out all of those parts with a scalpel. Great tips.

    • #57 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 5:14 pm

      That’s very kind of you, Lee. So glad the post could be helpful.🙂

  26. #58 by N Frye on October 22, 2014 - 3:27 pm

    Oh, and I don’t think I can “re-blog” to Blogger using the WordPress widget, but I’m definitely sharing this post over on my blog: http://nebblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/pre-writing-backstory.html

  27. #60 by Rachel Thompson on October 22, 2014 - 3:42 pm

    Good Jedi mind trick this is. Works great for writers that don’t know self restraint or editing. However, developing back-story has further, better applications other than tricking yourself into not using it. When you have a solid back-story critical elements from it, that help move the story forward by holding the Portag back and characterize her, roll out naturally. Every event in every story is by way of cause and effect. Furthermore, character choice comes from what they are made of and what that inner stuff is, is back-story. No back-story=shallow character.Back-story makes her 3-D.
    I disagree that character’s back-story is plot–it’s not–but, it does drive character’s actions which complicates the plot. Overcoming ingrained character issues which come out of back-story is character arc. Back-story’s internal influence prevents the protagonist from doing what she must. Thus, overcoming her inner conflict, IE back-story, allows her to creatively beat the odds and win the day, or get the lover or save the planet. Load the left brain before you let the right brain rip–you can’t go wrong.

  28. #62 by Jessica Barrett on October 22, 2014 - 3:56 pm

    This is fantastic. I’ve found that my favorite writers rarely give too much back-story. This will be my first NaNo so I’m a little overwhelmed at how bad my draft will suck. But I sincerely appreciate the expectation that it probably will, and that it’s okay! I have no idea how NOT to edit as I go, but I’m looking forward to it.

    • #63 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 5:18 pm

      So okay to suck! The best way I’ve found to not over-edit is to write the first draft out longhand on unlined paper. That way, the most you can do is make notes to yourself to fix things when you go to type it up. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it also helps me write much faster. Good luck!🙂

  29. #64 by Raani York on October 22, 2014 - 4:16 pm

    Thanks a lot for introducing Bayard and Homes. It sounds all very interesting and I have connected to them on Twitter and will on FB as well.🙂 You made me curious.

    • #65 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 5:19 pm

      It’s a pleasure to meet you, Raani. Thank you for connecting.🙂

  30. #66 by rick on October 22, 2014 - 4:52 pm

    I feel discouraged, which is encouraging. Nice post.

  31. #68 by Elizabeth on October 22, 2014 - 7:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story, Piper. Reason #2 unlocked how your characters direct the story. I hope to develop that “ear” for them. Grateful for the help.

    • #69 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:11 pm

      My pleasure. Glad I could be helpful.🙂

  32. #70 by Rose Ortiz on October 22, 2014 - 10:01 pm

    Like you my first book has sooooo much backstory even I was bored with the book.

    • #71 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:12 pm

      LOL. It’s a clue when even WE are bored with our books.🙂

  33. #72 by jeffguenther8 on October 22, 2014 - 10:13 pm

    Very nice, Piper. Too many writers, feeling they should get something tangible back from their investment in backstory, drop it into the novel, where it rarely does much besides clutter up the story.

    I was stuck on my first novel, redoing the first five chapters over and over. I finally backed off and just wrote bits and pieces of backstory, including a transcript of David’s first therapy session. Yes, I intended to put all of this stuff in the book. But the transcript flowed so quickly, so easily, I changed the early chapters to first person and finished the first draft in a few weeks. No backstory included.

    Ironically, it was a minor character, with no backstory at all, who told me to let David keep something he was supposed to give up. I had no idea why until, 40 pages later, he needed it.

    • #73 by Piper Bayard on October 23, 2014 - 8:49 am

      “Too many writers, feeling they should get something tangible back from their investment in backstory, drop it into the novel, . . .” An excellent observation.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.🙂

  34. #74 by Piper Bayard on October 22, 2014 - 11:18 pm

    “Too many writers, feeling they should get something tangible back from their investment in backstory, drop it into the novel, . . .” An excellent observation.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.🙂

  35. #75 by carbozombie on October 23, 2014 - 4:51 am

    I am printing out this post and tacking it to my wall. I am in the total suck phase of writing and cannot get out. I am going to try this and see if I can break out of the suction. Congrats on the book.

    • #76 by Piper Bayard on October 23, 2014 - 8:51 am

      Thank you.

      Bob Mayer said something once that I have found to be very true. On the days when you think everything you write sucks, just keep on writing. When you look back at your manuscript, you won’t be able to tell the difference between those days and the days you were “on.”

      Good luck!

  36. #77 by A.J Sendall on October 23, 2014 - 5:22 am

    Reblogged this on A.J. Sendall and commented:
    Some great tips from Piper Bayard.
    This line really summed it up for me;
    ‘ 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. ‘
    Thanks Piper/Kristen

    • #78 by Piper Bayard on October 23, 2014 - 8:52 am

      Thank you, A.J.!

    • #79 by jeffguenther8 on October 23, 2014 - 10:49 am

      There are times when a character may shove the plot off the road and down into a gulch. If the story is going in ugly or boring directions, you may need to back up a chapter or two and rein in that rogue character.

      In every scene, if there are n characters, there will be n+1 “wants” at work: one for each character, and one for the writer. Ultimately, you are in charge of the story. It’s nice when your people inspire you in great directions, but that’s not always what happens.

  37. #80 by Glynis Jolly on October 23, 2014 - 5:42 am

    So far I haven’t had a problem with backstory issues. I think it’s because I pattern my characters after people I know, therefore, knowing the backstory already. Still, because I’ve a novice of serious writing, I have found several character outlines online that I know will work so that there isn’t any doubt that I know my characters.

    • #81 by Piper Bayard on October 23, 2014 - 8:52 am

      Glad you found something that works for you, Glynis.🙂

  38. #82 by moxeyns on October 23, 2014 - 11:52 am

    *sigh* Yeah, I’ve just committed this offence. That thing about having to tell yourself the story as you go along, instead of knowing enough to leave stuff out, really struck home. Bang go 17,000 words…

    • #83 by Piper Bayard on October 24, 2014 - 2:47 pm

      So been there done that. Good for you for recognizing it before you turn it in to an editor.

  39. #84 by jrfrontera on October 23, 2014 - 1:14 pm

    OMG YESSSSSSS!!!!!! Holey moley, you hit the nail on the head! Probably the most important thing I’ve learned thus far in my writing ventures is that “characters poop plot, plot does not poop characters” ( … thanks, Chuck Wendig), which is the exact point you make here. Knowing my characters inside and out, and all of their backstory, has made the plot of my current WIP, now at 99k words, a BREEZE. When I do get stuck, I’ve found it’s because I’m trying to FORCE the characters to do something that’s out of character for them. When I realize this and remove myself from the story, and let THEM then take action, they ALWAYS get me unstuck, and quickly, and in ways I never would have thought of myself. And the story flows on again with surprisingly little effort on my part. It really is almost like they are real people of their own, over which I have no control. It is INCREDIBLE. The single best tool thus far for me as a writer has been this discovery. 🙂 Thanks for the GREAT post! I’m sharing this EVERYWHERE!

    • #85 by Piper Bayard on October 24, 2014 - 2:54 pm

      LOL. Chuck does have a way with words, doesn’t he?

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for sharing it, and good luck!

      • #86 by jrfrontera on October 27, 2014 - 10:29 am

        Indeed he does!😉

        You are very welcome, and thanks again!

  40. #87 by jrfrontera on October 23, 2014 - 1:17 pm

    Reblogged this on J. R. FRONTERA and commented:
    Holey moley, this post is FANTASTIC! Probably the most important thing I’ve learned thus far in my writing ventures is that “characters poop plot, plot does not poop characters” ( … thanks, Chuck Wendig), which is the exact point made here. Knowing my characters inside and out, and all of their backstory, has made the plot of my current WIP, now at 99k words, a BREEZE compared to my previous novels. When I do get stuck, I’ve found it’s because I’m trying to FORCE the characters to do something that’s out of character for them. When I realize this and remove myself from the story, and let THEM then take action, they ALWAYS get me unstuck, and quickly, and in ways I never would have thought of myself. And the story flows on again with surprisingly little effort on my part. It really is almost like they are real people of their own, over which I have no control. It is INCREDIBLE. The single best tool thus far for me as a writer has been this discovery. Therefore, I had to share with the rest of my writing community at large!

    Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the points made in this post can be related back to my own NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Lesson 2: Characters and GMC. 😀

  41. #88 by Giana on October 23, 2014 - 1:31 pm

    Oh Piper, if only I had read this post some months ago xD I wrote 15k before realizing I had been lazy with my world and character building and then I panicked and started changing everything. In the end I had a totally different world and plot and the same characters (who didn’t fit that world/plot). UGH. I’ve spent the last days deciding if I should go back to the old idea and work on it, or if I should adopt the new one and change the whole thing. I was leaning toward the first one, but after your post I’m sure: I’m gonna work on my old idea and make it become something I’m proud of. Thank you!

    • #89 by Piper Bayard on October 24, 2014 - 2:52 pm

      Most welcome! And it’s a good sign that it only took you 15k to figure that out. Did I mention above that my first manuscript took me 5 1/2 years?🙂

    • #90 by Piper Bayard on October 25, 2014 - 9:26 am

      Hi, Giana! You have won the drawing for a copy of RISKY BRIDES. Congratulations! Please contact me at BH@bayardandholmes.com and let me know which flavor you prefer . . . Kindle, Nook, iTunes, or Kobo.🙂

  42. #91 by Raven ShadowHawk on October 23, 2014 - 2:09 pm

    Heh, this is probably one of the funniest posts I’ve read on backstory. And it’s all so true!
    Granted, I still cough up every now and then and get caught up in stuff that I should leave out, but by and large, following tips like these has saved me a bundle of editing pain and turned horrid first drafts into merely crappy ones.😉

    • #92 by Piper Bayard on October 24, 2014 - 2:51 pm

      I think it takes a while to become confident about leaving things out. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  43. #93 by Christina Butrum on October 23, 2014 - 2:20 pm

    Great advice! Loved reading this article! Just in time for everyone to read for NaNoWriMo! This is my first time participating in NaNo. I have already found myself debating and doubting. I am going to chant a new motto to myself “It’s going to suck at first, but it will be great at last.”

  44. #95 by Deborah Makarios on October 23, 2014 - 10:01 pm

    ” 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.”
    How did you know?? And anyway, how else am I going to get three movies out of my backstory?🙂
    I recently realised that my first draft is so huge because I write down everything that happens in each scene. I already know most of it needs to be cut (and often even which bits) but I need to know exactly what happens so I know what to cut. If that makes sense. Backstory – well, that’s always a balancing trick. I wobble.

    • #96 by Piper Bayard on October 24, 2014 - 2:50 pm

      It’s good to write it all down . . . somewhere, not the book.🙂

      Good luck!

  45. #97 by Wally Root, author of The Crafty Winemaking Series of Books on October 24, 2014 - 10:59 am

    Went to buy your book and had problems. Checkerboard screen covering parts of the display. Finally got it to open, but the formatting was triangular-like. Long line, medium line, short line, word division in weird places. Is that intentional or is Amazon having a problem?

    • #98 by Piper Bayard on October 25, 2014 - 9:23 am

      No idea what’s happening with that. I’ll definitely look into it. Thank you so much for letting me know!

  46. #99 by Piper Bayard on October 25, 2014 - 9:26 am

    Congratulations to Giana, who won the drawing for a copy of RISKY BRIDES!

  47. #100 by Michelle Morrison on October 28, 2014 - 1:18 pm

    Very entertaining and informative as usual. 🙂 Favorite line: “Your books won’t be great until they suck.” LOL. My mantra is “Your book won’t exist until you get off your undisciplined rear and get it written.” 😀 I am learning as much as possible as I can from other writers by reading articles like this though. That is part of the writing process, and so is learning about discipline.

  48. #101 by shanjeniah on October 30, 2014 - 1:34 am

    If I had only learned this sooner! Now, I spend as much time as it takes developing that backstory. Often, I get to the point where I’m writing little biographical stories for my POV characters, and almost none of that gets into the final draft. But it certainly helps me to get into their skins and their minds.

    I didn’t know you were a SCUBA diver, Piper! Me, too! =D

    • #102 by jeffguenther8 on October 30, 2014 - 2:32 am

      One trick I’ve used is to interview my characters. Ask them a list of questions and see what the responses are. I asked one character how he earned a living, and he replied, “I’m an IRS informant. Didn’t you see the sign in the driveway as you came in?” He was lying, of course, but it gave me an insight into the sarcastic nature of his personality.

      • #103 by shanjeniah on October 30, 2014 - 2:35 am

        That’s a great answer!

        My characters tend to come act out their lives in my head during hot showers. Therefore, I spend a lot of October and November with dry pruny skin…

        It’s really quite lovely. Now, if I could only convince my Accomplice of this….

  49. #104 by M T McGuire on November 1, 2014 - 5:30 am

    Great post. So great to read this as I’m currently looking at an old manuscript, with exactly the problems you describe, which I’m thinking of rewriting, from scratch, for nano. So far I’ve kind of unconsciously been doing what you recommend which is why this article is so heartening… because seeing it all written out here makes so much sense.

    Thanks.

    Cheers

    MTM

    • #105 by jeffguenther8 on November 1, 2014 - 1:28 pm

      I think that’s a wonderful idea for NaNo, MT. A quick pass through your major characters to clarify them and their wants and needs, then plunge them into the situation afresh.

      • #106 by M T McGuire on November 2, 2014 - 4:06 am

        Thanks🙂 Here’s hoping, there’s no half term in November this year and apart from an event at the end the day time diary is reasonably clear. So I’m hoping I might just make it.

        Cheers

        MTM

  50. #107 by Sara Petersen on February 26, 2016 - 1:52 pm

    Love this! I shared some of your advice in my blog: http://rainydaysandlattes.com/2016/02/26/writing-a-novel-i-finished-the-first-draft-now-what/

    Thanks for the tips!

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  9. http://www.cafe303.website/judi-bola-euro-2016-aman-dan-menguntungkan/

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