Thursday, March 10, 2011

Handling Back Story

What I'm reading: Swept Away by Marsha Canham; Magnum Force Man, by Amanda Stevens; Irresistible Forces, by Brenda Jackson

Three books? I'd always been a finish one before starting the next, but I've got books on my NOOKcolor, which is my go-to 'read in bed' "book." Then, since I just got the recumbent bike, and it's set up downstairs, I keep a book in its basket to entice me to haul myself down for a workout. I decided not to bring it upstairs, but rather use it as a 'reward' for exercising. And, while running errands yesterday, I found myself waiting in the car while Hubster did the recycling, and mailed a box at the Post Office. I hadn't thought about bringing reading material, but with books on my phone, I can pass the time rather than get in and out of the truck.

I've also added a $50 off referral code for your printing needs. Check the Deals and Steals tab. (I suggest you check it regularly, as I'm trying to keep it current.) Likewise, my Contest tab. Entries are low—your odds of winning are very good.

Judging from page views and comments, yesterday's topic about that three-letter-word, was, hit home for a lot of people. I think readers don't really care. I know I became much more critical of what I read after I started writing. I'm always looking at construction, word choices, and all the other "rules" as I read, wondering how I would say the same thing. It's often been said, that once you start writing, you'll never read the same way again. So while part of my brain says, "I wonder what an agent/editor would say to that?" another part is trying to figure out why it works.

Recently, I read a book that had my "writer as reader" radar humming. I know back story and info dumping has been a topic, not only here, but all over the blogosphere. We've all been given advice about the following:

Watch out for As You Know, Bob, or Maid/Butler passages.

Don't stop the story to showcase your research.

If you've already told the reader something, don't tell it again, unless it brings new information to the page.

Handle back story like an IV drip. Consider how much of yourself you reveal at a first meet at a cocktail party.

Back story dumping is author intrusion.

Now, the book in question is one by a top best-selling author. I love her books, and was looking forward to a new release. When an earlier book was offered as a free read, and it wasn't one I owned (although I'd read it), I jumped at the chance to add it to my collection, and decided to re-read it to refresh my memory of the series. When the new book was released, I bought it immediately and dove into the read.

Although the writer's skill was still all over the page, I was surprised at the way back story was handled. Not only was there a lot of repeating information from the earlier books in the series, a lot of it was done by taking parts from the earlier book and copying them into the new one.

Now, I don't know if it would have been quite that familiar had I not just finished reading the earlier book (and to be truthful, I didn't do a word-by-word comparison, so it might not have actually been a cut and paste job), but it was like re-reading the first book yet again through much of the second. This, in turn, let to skimming, and created a mental attitude that "I didn't really like the book", although had I never read the earlier one, I'm sure this would never had occurred to me.

Writing series is tricky. There's a lot of character arc back story that readers should know. But somehow, this didn't seem to be the best way to handle it.


Shannon said...

It's always interesting reading authors who've published many books over the years and swapping between the earlier reads and the later ones. Their skill has always developed so much by then.

Terry Odell said...

Shannon - if you're not improving, I think you'll lose readers. I've read some who seem to be 'phoning in their books', relying on their names to keep selling books. Even my mother notices that my books (according to her) get better with each one.

Ellis Vidler said...

Hi, Terry. Backstory is difficult to judge, and series make it that much harder. You want just enough so the reader has an idea of what's happening, but not so much that you lose the present story. When I start a book, I always have too much. Then, as the story develops, I see where I can weave in little bits and cut the initial slow stuff. I have to hope readers find it a good balance.