Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pace and Backstory (Or... An Area in Which I Have Issues)

When I think about the pace of a novel, I think of a marathon*.  You have to keep up a steady pace to keep your reader interested.  There will be peaks and valleys, but it has to keep moving.  And, like a marathon, reading a novel is voluntary.  Though people don't like to drop out after beginning, they will if they lose momentum.

Pace has always been an issue for me.  I'm not currently WiP-ing, but today on the drive home from work, I began to give serious thought to the WiP that I was working on when I started this blog back in January.  I put it aside over the summer because it began to overwhelm me.  I was doing a bunch of research (that in itself can become burdensome.  Wait... is that a word?) and trying to decide if I wanted events that happened before the story to be a prologue or to work them into the story later.  In short, a bunch of things made me begin to feel like I was losing control of where I wanted the story to go, and I needed to step away from the vehicle.

Why is this an issue of pace?  Because my major issue is that I'm not sure where to drop backstory in while keeping the story itself moving.  I don't want to break the action by blabbing on about what happened before, but the reader needs to know. How do you do that naturally?  How do you "show not tell" things that have already occured?  I am going to have to reread The Hunger Games like a master class in dropping the reader into the action while having a whole lot of backstory to explain.  I don't remember being distracted by Panem's backstory in the series; in fact, I was hungry for as much information as I could get on what had happened before and how Panem's history had led up to The Reaping at the beginning of the first book.

I guess I'm a lazy writer, lol.  I wish I could just drop my reader into the current story with an understanding of where my MC has been (and, more importantly in the beginning, where her parents have been).  In my mind, I can visualize it like a movie... and when you see it, there is so much less to tell (or it's so much easier to show, lol).  This is what happens when you have a hubby who teaches TV Productions and analyzes film with his classes.  I could paint the backstory in a few effective shots.  Opening credits.  I wrote the opening backstory scene as a prologue initially, but then it's kind of an awkward transition to the present in Ch.1.

Well, I haven't looked at it since the summertime.  Maybe I'll reread it and inspiration will strike.  I guess it's time to wake up my muse...

* Note from Lindsey's pen:  Do not be fooled.  Lindsey has never run a marathon, nor is she in any shape to do so.


aspiring_x said...

heehee.. LOVE the note from your pen!
pacing was a big problem in my wip- one of the main reasons i decided on a nearly complete rewrite.
as i've been studying writing and been reading more, i've found that i enjoy a faster pace than i ever realized.
backstory- how much is absolutely necessary for the novel to make sense? how much is intersting? you could employ several different techniques to trickle the backstory in. also, remember that just because you as the author need to know all the backstory for your characters and settings and world, the reader doesn't necessarily need to know everything at the get go. learning about the story's past gradually can keep the mystery and interest going... it's like dating- you don't tell the guy about all your baggage on the first date- just the important stuff. the more the reader gets along in the story, the more baggage they'll want to know. at least that's kinda where i was going wrong.
have fun!

Jemi Fraser said...

Pace can be hard! I'm currently in a rewrite trying to fix mine! Good luck :)

Karen Strong said...

THE HUNGER GAMES is a great book to study. I learned a lot from just the way Suzanne Collins transitions between scenes.

And yes, she slips that backstory in piece by piece that you don't even realize you're reading backstory.

Good luck on your revisions! ;)

Claudie A. said...

Ah yes, pace. It can be so hard to work in all that backstory and to bring your world (in fantasy, anyway) to life without breaking the action.

Sometimes I'm afraid to start giving backstory. How will I know when to stop? I love my world, and I know I could go on about it for a long, long time.

That, however, doesn't mean I should, or that the reader wants me to.

Old Kitty said...

Oh Dangerous with a Pen!!!! When I started editing my current WIP I realised just how much backstory I had - every chapter had one!! And while for me it made sense I was so aware of it but was loathe to cut them out. I sort of compromised and edited to the bare minimum any backstory - and to this day I still think it works but who knows - I might be completely blinkered!! LOL!!

Anyway! I hope you do re-visit your ms asap and give your muse a rude awakening!! GOOD LUCK!!!

Take care

Connie said...

As a reader, it seems to me that backstory works well when I've "hungered" for it--hints in the text that foreshadow the backstory. That way when it appears, it's the tasty morsel that I've has been craving.

Falen (Sarah Ahiers) said...

i guess for me i typically write a prologue during the first draft. And then i delete it during revisions. It typically turns out OK

Dangerous With a Pen said...

Well, at least I'm not the only one, lol. It sounds like some of you have some different ways of dealing with backstory. I do agree that the reader may not need to know all that I know, so I guess it's a matter of just dropping in what is key to understanding the current part of the story (for example, in The Hunger Games, we don't find out what the deal is with District 13 until the end of the 2nd book).

For me, the backstory that is pressing in the beginning can be shown in one scene, which I had originally written as a prologue. The problem for me is that that "prologue" ended up more chapter-length than teaser-length. Hrmmm. Ahh, revision!

Hannah Kincade said...

I think it's like trying to tap into your character's thought process. We are constantly thinking about things in our past when we see things that remind us of it. We just have to find a way for our characters to do this naturally. Ugh. I'm going to have a ton of this in my nano book. I hope I succeed. Or at least fail humorously. :D