Monday, October 18, 2010

Dear Snoozin

When it comes to back story and getting necessary information into the novel, ask yourself if all that info is as necessary as you think it is.

The old Hemingway adage about the iceberg is still a good one. The right, really salient detail can hint/suggest at tons of stuff that doesn't have to be be poured directly into the novel.

This happens all the time in poetry where the part does stand for the whole and the precise word does the work of many worker bee words.

And, of course, there is always the surgical approach -- if the back story info takes a page, cut it by at least 1/2. Rent a chain saw if you have to. Such a wonderfully brutal tool.


  1. Hi Ron, et. al:

    Snoozin' is no longer with us--chainsaws work wonders on pseudonyms.

    Anyway, thank you for addressing backstory and the iceberg theory. The lingerie theory is useful, too. You probably know it. It parallels Hemingway's theory, only the Checkoway writers use the Victoria Secrets catalogue(I don't have access to the anthology right now). Which--no offense to Ernest--always melts the biggest and baddest iceberg.

    For some reason, weaving backstory in my YA piece abides by the theories. The protag. teases readers with her past because her attitude about runway modeling and the agency is shaped by her parents death (before the story begins). Backstory is minimal and is triggered by a relevant action in the story.

    Backstory is a different...erm... story in the MG piece. Each time I withhold the past, the story demands more to understand the current action--which, as Kelly mentions, could be a time issue. Maybe this story begins before I think it does. I am discovering that Kelly may be right. But I won't know until I rewrite this draft, take a chainsaw to it, and allocate a moment for self-hatred, as I look through this month's VS catalogue.

    You and Kelly have given me much to think about! Thanks again, all!

  2. I generally dump all the backstory and a bunch of other unnecessary stuff in during the first couple of rounds until I have a sense of what's working and what's not. Also I like to collect stuff and make a mess.

    Chain saw tip: Never hold a chain saw over your head when you're cutting.