I like to write characters, or read about characters, with a rich backstory. I know writers who construct elaborate backstories for all their major characters. The question is then how, or even if, this backstory is revealed to the reader. I think this is best done slowly
That’s how Brandon Sanderson does it in his sprawling, wondrous Stormlight Archive series. He has two main protagonists Kaladin, an enslaved warrior, and Shallan, a minor noble lady with a gift for drawing. Sanderson’s treatment of them was masterful. When I finished a chapter, I never knew if the next page would carry the story forward, or reveal a peek at Kaladin or Shallan’s past. While I wanted to know what the future held for these characters, I also wanted to know what had led to Kaladin becoming a slave and Shallan who she was.
By comparison, I recently started the first book in science fiction epic series, which will remain unnamed. One chapter consisted of a two-page data dump of the character’s backstory, and then a page of largely forgettable action not essential to the overall story. Soon afterward, I gave up on the book for this and other issues despite liking the co-protagonists. Please, authors, don’t dump backstory on me. Tease me with it little by little.
Backstory fascinates me so much that I made it the crux of my upcoming book Mindfield. In it, the reader and the protagonist will discover his backstory at the same time.
For me 2015 was a good year for writing.
In a nutshell:
Over 100,000 net words written
One book published: Truth-Teller Revenge
One book completed: Magellan’s Navigator
One book in beta edits: Mindfield.
2014 was a year of learning how to edit and hone my craft. For this I give thanks to my traditional publisher’s editor. I spent 2015 using my improved craft.
The year started out in a frustrating way. My trad publisher punted the copy editing of Truth-Teller Revenge, so my wife Teresa and I edited it under a tight deadline. That completed, I rewrote my first novel, a historical fiction work about Magellan’s voyage of discovery. That book represented several years of research that I wasn’t willing to flush. Originally, this book was 120,000 words, had multiple points of view, and was too boring. I rewrote the book as an 80,000 word “discovered” memoir of the armada’s navigator and am now proud of it. That took until summer, when it went off to my wonderful beta-readers Dave, Kerry, and Laura. In the fall, I reedited it based on their recommendations. I’m now flogging it to agents as Magellan’s Navigator.
I conceived Mindfield in February, thanks Pam for the title, and started writing a few months later. I had a decent draft by October and edited it through year-end. It’s now in the hands of my beta readers. Final editing will start soon. I’m excited about this book. It’s my best book of the six I’ve written.
Publishing and Promoting:
I made a few baby steps in learning the world of publishing and book promotion. It began in frustration. Truth-Teller Revenge, which as a traditionally published book I have no control over pricing, bombed. I discovered promoting on my blog and to Facebook groups doesn’t cut it. My self-published thriller Download substantially outsold and outearned Revenge even though I had Download at a lower price point.
A glimmer of hope came when an author friend, Ann Roth, got me into an indie publishing Facebook group. What an education. Thank you, Ann. I’m now much better equipped to navigate the publishing world, be it traditional or self-publishing. It’s still a steep mountain to climb, but now I know where the path is and what boots to wear.
This year I’ll write Mindfield’s sequel and get Mindfield and Magellan’s Navigator published. It should be another fun year.
While many writers are working furiously to meet their word count goals for NaNoWriMo, I continue to plug away at Mindfield. NaNoWriMo for the uninitiated is where writers vow to complete at least a 50,000 word draft novella in the month of November. That means a very ambitious 1667 words per day. Good luck all NaNoWriMo writers.
Mindfield is nearing the completion of its second draft. When editing I attempt to still do a net 500 words per day, and usually I can do it. Yesterday was very productive…but I did a net minus 200 words for the day. That was despite writing well over a thousand new words. I hate tearing out decent existing writing, but it was for the best. This is one of the climactic chapters and the original version didn’t have enough tension. It does now. Today I did a more normal net addition of 500 words. Now on to the final chapters.
The final final copy editing of a book is my least favorite part of publishing. No matter how many times I go over, my wife goes over, and fellow writers go over a manuscript, little typos, mostly dropped words, leak into the final product until they’re finally laboriously bludgeoned out.
BUT NOW THERE IS HOPE. Several months ago, someone in a writing group mentioned having my Kindle read my manuscript back to me. Yesterday, after a few misfires, I uploaded Magellan’s Navigator to my Kindle and started listening. I wouldn’t want to experience a book this way. The Kindle runs together sentences and uses no inflection, but for editing this technique WORKS! I’m finding minor typos that eluded myself and three other editors. In a day or two, this edit will be done and I graduate to other fun things, like writing a query letter and summary.
How does the The New York Times come up titles for their articles? For example, how about: The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print is Far From Dead.
Is the journalist actually stupid enough to believe their title or are they simply a shill for the traditional publishers? They canvased 1200 publishers, and discovered that e-book sales for them have stalled, while print is rising. Is that any surprise? The trad publishers are pricing some e-books higher than paperback these days. How does that make sense, other than to blatantly rip off the buying public?
The journalist completely ignores sales by Amazon and other e-tailers of indie writers in their so-called analysis. In fact, Author Earnings does an excellent analysis, which shows e-books sales continue to go up, and e-books, mostly written by indie authors, are dominating the romance, sci fi, and fantasy genres.
It’s been a productive summer for me of reading and writing. On the writing side, I’m nearing completion of the first quality draft of my sci fi book Mindfield after figuring out the final chapters while on vacation. The final proofing of my historical fiction Magellan’s Navigator is in process. Thanks to Laura Henson, Dave Mueller, and Kerry Stevens for their invaluable beta read of this manuscript. I’ll need covers for both these books and formatting both for ebook and paperback. Being an indie author isn’t easy. Equally exciting, I’m part of a newly formed group of serious writers meeting regularly for critiques.
I’ve done a lot of reading this summer, due in part to my discovery of the great deals on Bookbub. (I’ve had to restrain myself lately, as it’s easy to build up a backlog of books.) My favorite author of my summer reads is Lindsay Buroker. While on vacation, I finished her “boxed set” Forgotten Ages. This steampunk set consists of her Encrypted, Enigma, and Decrypted novels. These books have good characters, fast moving plots, and an intriguing world. Most of all, I liked her voice and her use of language. It’s much more alive than that of many authors. And, from her facebook page, it looks like she’s a fellow Vizsla owner!
Whether you’re a fantasy reader or a writer of any genre, I suggest you check out Ms. Buroker’s webpage at www.lindsayburoker.com. She’s proof that a hardworking writer can make it as an indie writer, and her blog has lots of useful info on the secrets to her success.
I keyed 2,358 words yesterday on Mindfield, which makes for 15,225 words in the last fifteen days. Yeah! Both numbers are records for me. Even when I’m not sitting at my keyboard, electrifying dialogue and action sequences dance in my mind. Too bad they aren’t as electrifying when I get around to punching them into words. Nonetheless, writing a new book is an exciting experience for me.
I did have a few slow days where I barely logged a few hundred words. Writer’s block? You might call it that, but the problem was I had a good outline for the first two-thirds of the book, while the last third was sketchy. To a degree, this was unavoidable. More so than most space operas, Mindfield is about its protagonist’s self-discovery. I had to write the first two-thirds of the book to fully understand Cam and where he wanted to head. That done, the remainder of the book plotted out in quick order.