Archive for February, 2018

When to use backstory in literary fiction Article About Writing Better


Monday, February 19th, 2018
William H. Coles

In general, in fiction, backstory should only be employed to advance the front story.  For excellence, the concept is almost always required in short stories but is also useful in the broader sweep of a novel.

Example 1. Scene: no backstory. Story momentum intact.

The curtain parted just far enough for Maria to step forward into the spotlight and then closed.  She bowed to the audience applause and cupped one hand in the other in a gesture of formality.  She nodded to the piano player who, after a pause, started playing to guide her to the always difficult major-seventh opening note of the aria.  The first flush of the piano introductory chords expanded out over the audience.  Maria listened for the cue to pinpoint her starting note, it was coming . . .oh, no! but the pianist skipped the refrain with her critical cue note she must have.  Would he still recover, do it right?  She glared, tried to make eye contact. He plodded on.  The audience turned into a thousand hostile critics instead of an adoring group of friends she liked to imagine.  He’d circumnavigated to return to the intro. He was seven bars from her entrance.  It was coming!.  God!  She took a deep breath, searching her memory for some clue to her starting pitch that had now escaped her the strain an impending failure.

Example 2. Scene with backstory (italicized). Same story but momentum interrupted by backstory.

The curtain parted just far enough for Maria to step forward into the spotlight and then closed. She bowed to the audience applause and cupped one hand in the other in a gesture of formality.  She nodded to the pianist who started the intro.  She had met with him briefly yesterday.  A dull sullen young man, but attractive with dark brown eyes and an inerasable black shadow of a dark beard shaved hours ago.  She had carefully explained how she needed the refrain in the intro before the aria.  She could only start when she heard the fifth to orient her to the nonchordal tone the composer insisted on using.  She thought he had understood. And they had practiced, in the short time available, all the passages religiously.  Now he’d forgotten the refrain.  He finished the intro and went directly to the aria.  Panic rose in her.  She could never hit the crucial major seventh so unique to this composer . . . but she had to go forward.  She felt the audience’s expectant stares, heard their breathing.  When she sang the note, the pianist’s head jerked toward her.  He knew what he had done.

To build as a significant dramatic happening with impact, the scene needs momentum. Backstory stops the momentum as a result of authorial lack of purpose. Indeed, if information about the accompanist—attraction, dislike, lack of respect for his talent, etc.—is important to the story, it should be skillfully embedded outside this action-scene. As is, it represents an author intent on just writing—filling a space with written words–rather than dedication to structuring and creating a story for the purpose of engaging, entertaining, and enlightening a reader.

Thanks for reading

REFERENCES:
Preparing to Write the Great Literary Story
Momentum

Suchins Escape

Suchin’s Escape, short-story illustration by Peter Healy

Looking for a good book you can’t put down? Try these novels by William H. Coles:
McDowell
Guardian of Deceit
The Spirit of Want
The Surgeon’s Wife
Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016



Action and Imagery Article About Writing Better


Monday, February 5th, 2018
William H. Coles

Concepts for making your story writing better.

A story in fiction, to be admired and remembered, needs, among many, these essential elements—action, conflict, and active imageic-words.

In-scene storytelling is often more effective to engage and involve readers than telling-narration. The first example tells of a happening in narrative; the second, for comparison, is written in scene.

Narrative

Harry flew a kite at the beach to entertain his invalid son but the kite got away, and Harry seethed with anger.

Many writers would think that changing from past to present tense would provide immediacy of action. Harry flies a kite at the beach to entertain his invalid son but the kite gets away, and Harry seethes with anger. From a reader’s pleasure-view, not much improvement. And, in fact, in-scene reader involvement can be well established in past tense (without inherent problems of present tense), and is usually preferable, at least here.

Compare in scene

Here is the same scene with the idea expressed using expanded, selected word choice; insertion of active (rather than passive) construction; and use of concrete imagery… all bolded to emphasize.

A wind gust elevated the dragon kite and the string ran through Harry’s hand fast enough to hurt.
        “Let me do it, Daddy,” his son Raymond said as he limped to Harry’s side. The boy held out his hand that, when awake, trembled from a congenital palsy. Could he hold the string? Fly the kite? He wanted to so badly.
        “Hold tight,” Harry urged, placing the string in the boy’s hand. The kite dipped then suddenly soared, the string taught again.
        The boy cried out. “I dropped it.” Harry reached out but the kite had lofted too far to grab the trailing string.
        The kite disappeared, driven out to the sea by the force of the wind.
        “I didn’t mean too,” the boy said, “Please don’t hit me.”

Note the words:

Active verbs: elevated, ran through (hand), hurt, limped, trembled, dipped, soared, dropped, lofted, disappeared, hit.
Concrete nouns: gust, palsy, string, sea.
Concrete modifiers: dragon, taught, trailing.

To improve as a fiction writer and storyteller:
1)  ritualize use of a dictionary and Thesaurus to search for the right words;
2) develop in-scene writing techniques (to replace narrative telling); be concrete–not abstract; keep perspective close to the action; keep characters’ sensations in their senses—sight, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling;
3) avoid passive constructions; and
4) rigorously seek the right balance for the story being told between narrative and in-scene telling.

Thanks for reading!

REFERENCES:

What do you do to make scenes come alive in literary fiction?
Keep readers involved when writing literary fiction stories
Momentum

Creating Literary Stories

Looking for award-winning fiction books to read? By William H. Coles! TRY…
McDowell
Guardian of Deceit
The Spirit of Want
The Surgeon’s Wife
Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016




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