Action, Backstory, Character, Tension


Many of us, I can probably get away with saying most of us, who write fantasy, tend to write more than one book in a series, whether that’s a duology, trilogy, or full on series. But there are some specific issues that you run into when writing a second book in a series. You usually want to write a book that stands alone pretty well, but you also usually want to remind readers of what happened in the last book, who the characters are, their relationship to each other, important world details, and etc. This is all Backstory.

Backstory tends to be static. It interrupts the forward motion of the story you’re telling. It may be fascinating, but it still tends to be info dump. It’s important to grounding the readers, but the delivery can and frequently does become clunky and it tends to get in the way of the forward motion of the story. It makes starting a second or third or fourth book harder and harder  (it gets thicker, denser, and heavier with every added prequel).

The problem is that you need backstory, but because it’s static, it doesn’t move the story and at the beginning of the book, you need to move it. Readers want some excitement, some action, some character in conflict. Too much backstory will, for lack of a better word, constipate your story.

So what do you do?

Here’s what I do. In the first draft, I put in everything, including backstory, that I think I need. I just let myself do infodumps (though I try to work the info in in ways that seem natural and that don’t just stop the story dead).

Once I get that done, and hopefully I wait until the entire novel is done, I then go back and start slashing and carving. The goal is to get rid of everything that isn’t necessary to the forward motion of this story. I try to think about the novel as its own creature.  That means, what do I need in this novel to tell this story? Whatever came before in the last novels, what does this novel need? Anything else has to go.

That sound easy. It’s not. First, you get attached to some descriptions. Second, you think something is more important than it really is. You really have to separate yourself from what’s been before and what’s now. And you are so familiar with your own work that creating that separation is just about truly impossible. What happens is that every paragraph, sentence, and word becomes suspect. You must look at each one with skepticism. You must ask if they really deserve to be in your book, or whether other words/sentences/paragraphs will do more work and be more productive.

Now, you should know this. In going through this process, you’re likely to: snatch yourself bald, drink heavily, gorge on chocolate (or bacon), start talking to yourself, start arguing with yourself (out loud and often in public), and potentially shave your entire body and paint yourself with food coloring.*

But in the end, if you do it and do it right, your book will jump into character and action and conflict and the backstory will flow through like honey–which is to say, your readers will eat up.


*Of course I haven’t done any of these things. Really. No I haven’t. Seriously. Truly.

 Sorry this posted late. I don’t know why. I’m at Miscon at the moment, so I will reply as I can. Have a great weekend!


4 comments to Action, Backstory, Character, Tension

  • *snarf* What shade of food coloring?

    I like your approach of just letting it all go in until the revision-diet. Good post, Diana!

  • Purple of course. Although, a truly deranged mind might go to all possible shades.


  • sagablessed

    This makes me want chocolate flavored vodka with a BLT. Thank the Gods I am bald. 🙂

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you for this very handy post. Even if it’s not an easy technique, it sounds like at least a straight-forward and *do-able* way to deal with backstory – something I’ll hopefully be trying out very soon. 😀 Unfortunately, though, I don’t really need extra encouragement to hold loud, involved conversations with myself…
    Have fun at Miscon! (Say ‘Hello’ to Missoula for me.)