This Business of Writing

Archive for March 30th, 2010|Daily archive page

Writing Forward

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 30, 2010 at 9:01 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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When you write, do your characters tell you who they are and where they wish to go or do you map out every aspect of their personalities and each step they are to take? When I write, I start with a general idea of a storyline and a concept of who my characters are. Beyond that, my characters tend to write not only themselves by my novels.

I attended a James River Writers panel session not too long ago where the speakers touched upon this very idea. This concept even has a name. It’s called, Writing Forward. While on this panel, all three speakers agreed great characters and great novels often develop this way. Basically, it means to give your  characters and novels permission to write themselves. In other words, you allow the story and its inhabitants to become a part of your writing process.

At this meeting, one panelist gave an example of a sugar bowl with a note in it. She had no idea of where or how the crockery would come into play within her novel, she simply felt it belonged in the story. As she taps the power of Writing Forward when she writes, she didn’t plan as to when the piece would show up in her narrative, she just waited until it found its way in of its own accord.

I have a similar example in my emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.” In my case, it wasn’t a dinner dish but rather a pocket watch that held sway over me. The story is set in mid-nineteenth century America when every stylish man carried a pocket watch on a chain in his vest.  As a guy, I understand how men feel their watches are representative of their personalities and felt I this concept had a role to play in my novel. So, as my story jumped out of my keyboard and onto the screen, I kept the watch in the back of my mind. When it needed to show up, it did. And when it did, it’s meaning took on even a larger role than I’d envisioned. In fact, it’s power is unleashed in the very last line of the novel.

Though my pocket watch is an example of Writing Forward, I use the technique on a much larger scale than a simple clock. When I sat down to write my novel, I’ll began with my primary characters fleshed out to a degree and a general idea of how the story was going to end. By the time I stopped writing, the characters had grown dramatically in depth and personality and my novel had morphed into something much better than I’d imagined at the start. As I write, I “feel” where I have to go and then allow my Muse to determine how I’m to get there.

What is it that draws you to writing anyway? It’s probably your Muse and she’s a powerful partner in your writer’s journey. In fact, I believe it is she who infuses us with the concept of Writing Forward. I think you should welcome her, that intuition within you, and allow her to run roughshod over your novel and those people with which you populate it. Allow your creativity to impose itself upon you, your characters and your story.

By the way, the panel consisted of three quite successful authors you may wish to read. They were Ms. Carolyn Parkhurst,  author of The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, Ms. Leslie Pietrzyk, author of Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day, and Ms. Susann Cokal, author of Mirabilis and Breath and Bones.

I hope you find it within yourself to take advantage of that intuitive skill known as Writing Forward. I’ll bet your writing will be all the better for it.

Regardless of how you write, you know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


The Secrets to Backstory in Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 30, 2010 at 6:20 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

For a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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Backstory is narrative that hints at or describes a character’s past. Often it presents itself in long-winded passages known as an info dump. It’s improper use conflicts with a number of the “rules” writers are supposed to follow including, providing too much information, too much information too soon, it shows rather than tells and worst of all, does not hold your reader’s interest.

Possibly the most common mistake writers make relative to backstory is to include too much too soon in their novels.

Another issue with backstory is writers think their readers need this information. Yet, more often than not, they require much less than you give them. The truth about backstory? Most of it is forgotten or ignored.

Everyone in the industry knows good writing is alive, it’s exciting and vibrant. Therefore, the most interesting writing is usually in the now, it’s immediate in its presentation. Backstory is not in the now by its very nature. That fact alone tells us to limit the backstory in our novels.

The secret to backstory is to introduce it in miniscule amounts and only as necessary. Let it loose when your reader needs to know about it and then drip it into your novel rather than pour it. Offering your reader pieces of information is much more effective than info dumps.

Think of backstory as morsels of your character’s prior life rather than meals of data about them. Offer your reader a taste of what they need to know and allow their imagination to fill in the rest of the picture.

Now for some tips as to how to infiltrate backstory into your novel.

Introduce backstory only after you’ve secured your reader’s interest in the story and in the character. Write about the action first.

Incorporate backstory when the specific character is the focus on your narrative. This, I think, is self-explanatory.

Convey backstory as soon as it’s needed, but only when its needed. That is, incorporate it just before the reader needs to know it. For example, if your character is a murderer, your reader might not need to know what draws him to this explosive mode of expression until after he kills his first victim, and maybe even later.

You may wish to use flashbacks to introduce large amounts of backstory. As your story moves along, you can write a single flashback chapter, then return to your storyline in the following chapter. Be cautious however, for flashbacks are tricky things to master and many readers, agents and editors don’t care for them.

You might introduce a dream to outline the needed backstory. Again, this is another tricky technique and is overused, so take care.

You can divulge family secrets to bring out backstory. Secrets are always exciting, so they have a better chance to keep from losing your reader’s interest.

Memories are another tool to consider. Often this comes out in dialogue or a character’s thoughts.

Regardless how you introduce your necessary backstory, keep in mind that it’s mystery that hooks your reader. Don’t tell them too much or they’ll have no reason to learn more about your characters.

Don’t be concerned if this technique takes a while to learn. It does for most writers. Just keep an eye open for excessive backstory then cut or disperse it wherever and whenever you can. You’ll do well with a little practice.

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”