Backstory

On my recent appearance on the Rony Robinson Show on BBC Radio Sheffield, we talked about backstory or the infodump, and why telling the reader too much, too soon, should be avoided.

What exactly do writers mean when they talk about backstory? Basically, it is filling the reader in on the background of your story, why the action takes place where it does, the subtext of your character’s lives, and the reasons for the big question or problem they have to solve.

Backstory is essential to novels, but the opening pages aren’t the place to go into depth about your character’s past or the places they inhabit. The trick is to give the reader just enough information to make them care, and want to find out what happens next.

You need to think carefully about the opening chapter. Readers don’t necessarily have to know that your heroine has blue eyes, blonde hair, and lives with her aged mother in a tumbledown cottage, or that the hero has two siblings who have green eyes and regularly tap him for a loan.

Think of the opening of your novel as the equivalent of an appetiser—a bit of teasing in order to keep the reader hooked. A couple of sentences here and there, no long blocks. Backstory is showing not telling. Your readers want to launch into the action. They want to see what’s happening. They don’t want to be told.

What about flashbacks – those little scenes where your character starts to think about something that took place weeks/months/years ago? Flashbacks can slow the pace of the story and confuse readers. They are best used in a prologue, but be careful that you don’t tell the reader too much, too soon. There are three primary ways to include backstory in your novel.

  1. Dialogue.
  2. Narrative.
  3. Description.

I prefer to use dialogue. It feels more natural to have my characters talk about their past, or explain their reason for acting in a particular way. But it’s a personal choice and you have to decide what works best for that part of the story.

But how do you know how much backstory to use?

That’s a difficult question, and to a certain extent, the decision is yours. Just remember, too much backstory will make the reader bored and tempt him or her to put the book down. You’ll lose their attention. They may even wonder why they picked up the book in the first place, and that’s the last thing any writer wants.

Joan Hessayon Award

The House on the Shore is a contender for the 2009 Joan Hessayon Award presented by the Romantic Novelists Association. The Joan Hessayon NWS Award is presented to the best debut novel each year to have come through the specialized and highly selective New Writer’s Scheme and been accepted for publication by a recognized publisher.

Distinguished winners have included Marika Cobbold, Norma Curtis, Linda Taylor and Donna Hay. Many other popular authors owe their start in the industry due to this (unique amongst professional UK writers’ associations) facet of the RNA.

The award is generously sponsored by Dr David Hessayon, in honor of his late wife Joan, who was a longstanding member of the RNA and a great supporter of the New Writers’ Scheme.

The Winner will be announced on the 13th May 2009.

Valentine’s Day Release

What a busy three months! Life has been on big rush ever since Vanilla Heart accepted my submission for The House on the Shore. Not only did the cover and synopsis appear on Amazon.com and other online bookstores, but it will also be available in libraries in both the UK and USA. WooHoo!!!

The House on the Shore

Set in the Highlands of Scotland, this visually magical tale takes the reader on a journey from the remote shores of Loch Hourn to the singular beauty of Cape Cod.

And for those of you who might be considering buying a copy, here’s a short excerpt:

Her concentration was broken by the shriek of frantic barking. She tore her gaze away from the screen and looked out of the kitchen window. A tall, dark-haired man was making his way up the crescent-shaped beach, doing a weird twisting dance, holding his right arm above his head. With his left he pushed off the two boisterous, snapping collies.

“Oh hell,” she groaned. She threw open the door and shouted. “Ensay! Rhona! Heel!”

The dogs instantly stopped snapping at the stranger’s ankles and ran to their mistress. Anna leaned against the door frame and waited while the figure strode confidently across the grass towards her, his well-muscled body covering the rough ground with long, purposeful strides. His jet black hair showed a little grey at the temples, the cut slightly longer than was considered acceptable for a man she judged to be in his forties. But somehow it suited him.

He stopped a foot from her door, close enough for her to smell the lemon spice of his cologne. Now that she could see him more clearly, she noticed the laughter lines around his eyes and mouth, hinting at a softer side to his character. His body was lean, the outline of his muscles visible through the shirt he wore. A faint white scar creased his right cheek, and she thought it gave his face a handsome rugged look. He gazed at her with dark brown eyes and smiled, slow and warm, and for some reason her breathing quickened.

With just one look she knew he was trouble.

“Hi, there. I know I’m trespassing, but do you think you could ask your dogs not to rip off my thigh?”

Anna drew herself up to her full height, which was barely up to his shoulder. “They’re guard dogs and only doing their duty,” she said stiffly. The dogs sat at her silent signal, but their eyes remained fixed on the stranger.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m having engine trouble and I can’t get a signal.” He indicated his mobile phone.

“That’s because there are no transmitters.”

“Oh, then could I borrow your phone? I need to contact the nearest boatyard for some advice.”

“I don’t have a phone.”

He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Look, I haven’t slept for twenty-four hours and I’m beat. Sandpiper, that’s my yacht, developed a problem soon after I left Stornaway.” He paused as her words registered. “Did I hear right? You don’t have a phone?”

“No, I don’t, so I’m afraid I can’t help you. I suggest you weigh anchor, turn your boat around, and head west out of the loch.”

“Perhaps I should’ve introduced myself. I’m Luke Tallantyre, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.” He offered his hand. She didn’t take it.

“Anna, Anna MacDonald. Yachts are always straying into the loch at this time of year. Their crews seem to think this is some sort of hostel. Well, it’s not, and I still don’t have a phone.”

“Okay, so where do I catch the bus to town?” His eyes lingered on her face. “Oh, no. You’re about to tell me there isn’t a bus either. Aren’t you?”

Anna nodded. The motion sent sunlight gliding through her auburn hair. “That’s right. Welcome to Kinloch Hourn, otherwise known as the Loch of Hell.”

“The name fits,” Luke muttered. “What sort of place doesn’t have a phone or a bus service in this day and age?”

“How about the remotest glen in the Highlands? Up here, one man and his dog constitute a crowd. And before you ask, there are no shops either, unless you count Mrs McCloud in the village, but she only opens on alternate days. The butcher’s van calls every Thursday afternoon, and the library service visits once a month. I think that about covers all the local amenities. Oh yes, there’s a mobile bank too, but that only comes once a fortnight. The school closed last year. But you’re in luck…there’s a hotel and it has a phone.”

“So there is a God after all.”

“However, its twelve miles down the road in that direction,” she replied, pointing vaguely to some distant place.

Book Reviews

As all serious writers know a good review not only boosts your self-esteem, its also good for sales! I thought I’d take a break from working on my current manuscript and share the review for my soon-to-be published novel, The House on the Shore.

www.apexreviews.net

The House On The Shore

Victoria Howard

ISBN: 9781935407249

Vanilla Heart Publishing

Reviewed By Renee Washburn

Official Apex Reviews Rating: **** (4 stars)

Anna MacDonald is looking to start over. She’s just been passed over for a promotion that she’s eagerly awaited – and, to make matters worse, her own boyfriend is the supervisor that snubbed her. To top it all off, the lucky recipient of her desired position just happens to be – of all things – his new lover…ouch…

So, in an effort to wipe the slate clean, she retreats to the Scottish shore, establishing her new residence in an old, yet sturdy house owned by her grandparents. Her only plans? Soak up the splendor of her rustic surroundings and fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a published author. Joined by her trusty Border collies, Ensay and Rhona, Anna couldn’t ask for a more opportune chance to start fresh while mending the broken pieces of her still-aching heart.

Little does she know, though, she won’t have the chance to enjoy her solitude for long. Shortly after her arrival, she makes the acquaintance of the handsome, charming Luke, a successful artist from across the pond, and the chemistry between the two of them can’t be denied for long. Soon caught up in the throes of a passionate love affair, Anna appears to be on the cusp of lasting happiness – but, alas, she eventually learns that bliss and trouble are often flip sides of the same coin, and when an unseen stranger begins escalating his efforts to end her life, she’s suddenly thrust in the midst of a sinister mystery that leaves her wondering just who wants her dead – and why…

The House On The Shore is an enjoyable read. In it, Victoria Howard presents a well-crafted page turner that unfolds at just the right pace, ensuring that the reader’s attention is held captive with each new mysterious development. Howard also does a commendable job of infusing her characters with vivid, palpable personality, framing their inclinations and reactions in the three-dimensional, thus making it easy for readers to relate to them in very real, practical terms.

A quick but compelling read, The House On The Shore is a can’t miss suspense thriller with a surprisingly potent punch, and one that fans of the genre are sure to enjoy.