Is Backstory Necessary?

“So when my students ask me how much backstory they’re permitted to include in a story, I say, ‘How about none?'”

That’s Benjamin Percy in Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, an excellent book on writing fiction.

He expands on his backstory bashing: “None is a good start. Because it’s so often unnecessary. A reader intuits the history of a character by observing them acting in the present.”

It’s as if I were to tell you that I’m writing this post because I made a promise to myself a few weeks ago to blog more often, to have fun with it, and to use what I’m reading and listening to as launchpads for creating content.

Does that make you care any more about this post’s actual topic?

While I’m not a developmental editor for fiction (yet), I have read enough nonfiction works-in-progress (including my own) where the first 10 to 20 percent needed to be cut. It was the author warming up to what they really wanted to write about.
Backstory is like that. You may need to write it so you know what your story is about and why your characters do what they do, but you don’t need to publish it.

As Percy writes, “The impulse to explain will insult the reader. That’s their job—part of the pleasure of reading a story is inference, filling in the blanks and becoming a participant in the narrative, a coauthor.”

So let your coauthor do the work they may not even know they want to do.

Kill your little darling of a backstory.


 

The Art of Author Branding with Mary DeMuth

In preparation for her talk tomorrow, May 25, at 7 p.m. at Deep Vellum Books near downtown Dallas for the monthly meeting of the Dallas Nonfiction Authors Association, I interviewed Mary DeMuth about “The Art of Author Branding.”

As an experienced and prolific author of more than thirty fiction and nonfiction books, she has keen insight into what it means to be a working writer.

In this short interview, Mary offers one helpful tip from her talk, describes her new site, BookLaunchMentor.com, invites listeners to Rockwall or Geneva for a book mentoring intensive, and lets us know what her favorite read of the year has been so far.

If you’re in the Dallas area, please consider joining us this Thursday at Deep Vellum Books. First-time attendees are free and can show up at the door.

Learn more about the meetup here.

And don’t forget to check out Mary’s most recent release:

The Reindeer Games: A Day to Rue

To fully enjoy “A Day to Rue,” the finale to the five-part miniseries “The Reindeer Games,” read “The Reindeer Games,” “Catching Ire,” “The Battle Royale Begins,” and “Stalking Day” first.
The Reindeer Games
“It’s time for you to go down in history Rue,” I whispered to myself.
I happened upon him in the deepest part of the forest, his glowing red nose a dead giveaway beneath the mound of snow he was trying to hide beneath, even amidst the dense fog that had rolled in since the massacre. Tiny puffs of nervous breathing intermittently rose above his rather pathetic hideout.
I felt sorry for the kid, but I knew what had to be done.This was the way we’d always done things, and this was the way that the new recruits learned their hard lessons.
I laid my bow and arrows, tent, and food supplies on the ground to prevent the noise of shifting weight from giving away my position. The kid was small and afraid, so I knew I could overpower him if I could surprise him. I crept to his position, as quiet as any rooftop reindeer on Christmas Eve.
I raised my hooves over his hidden body, a little sad about what I was about to do, but nonetheless determined to win The Reindeer Games once again.
Continue reading “The Reindeer Games: A Day to Rue”

The Reindeer Games: Stalking Day

To fully enjoy “Stalking Day,” read “The Reindeer Games,” “The Reindeer Games: Catching Ire,” and “The Reindeer Games: The Battle Royale Begins” first.
The Reindeer Games
“Who’s going to guide my slay tonight?”
The Fat Man’s pun boomed over us as we sprinted toward the goods at the center of our ring.[ref]Suprisingly, The Fat Man had a dark sense of humor.[/ref] Steve had died at the hands of a snowflake, and Rue had already run off into the forest behind us. That left eight of us sprinting toward the middle, diving for whatever plunder we could lay our hooves on or snag with our antlers.
Dash, Don, and Dan, the Triple D’s I often used as an easily led posse back at The Pole, made a beeline for the food reserves. They were big boys and not well-equipped when it came to foraging for themselves. I assumed they’d stock up on as much food as possible and try to break every else’s necks by brute force. I was pretty sure they’d given no consideration to what they’d do if The Reindeer Games ended with just the three of them still alive.
Prancer and Cupid were a motion blur of speed as they ran toward the center. They grabbed the most goods, including a bow and arrow I’d had my eye on.[ref]Yes, a reindeer can use a bow and arrow, but it takes years of practice to master.[/ref]
Comet and Vixen casually sauntered their way to the center and snagged a bag full of snowballs.
I approached last, warily eyeing each of my competitors. They knew better than to mess with me. I grabbed the only item that was left, a tent. I should have moved faster to get something more offensive, but I’d been preoccupied with Steve’s untimely passing and Rue’s quick escape.
I traced hoofprints back into the forest and came upon The Triple D’s stalking Comet and Vixen. I hung back and watched the massacre that occurred just moments later.
Continue reading “The Reindeer Games: Stalking Day”

The Reindeer Games: The Battle Royale Begins

To fully enjoy “The Battle Royale Begins,” read “The Reindeer Games” and “The Reindeer Games: Catching Ire” first.
The Reindeer Games
“Let the 74th annual Reindeer Games begin!”
With those words, all ten of us rose onto the playing grounds in a perfectly formed circle. A 30-second countdown began. Once finished, we could choose to run into the snowy forest behind us or fight each other for the helpful plunder laying before us.
“Twenty.”
The Triple D’s—Dash, Don, and Dan—were dumb but strong, a fearful combination. Their plans usually devolved into ramming their collective heads into whatever problem was before them. This triumvirate of idiocy stood directly across from me, a song wafting across the snow-laden meadow. It was the same song they sang every year: He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or dead.
That was the only line of the song.[ref]The fact that the melody never resolved itself was more annoying than their lack of creativity.[/ref]
“Fifteen.”
Comet and Vixen were the smart but pretty ones. They knew how to use their attractiveness to their advantage. They’d gotten out of more work and received more food from Mrs. The Fat Man than any of us because of their wily ways.
Prancer and Cupid were quick, faster than anyone else in The Pole, even the Elf speed skaters.
“Ten.”
Me? I was The Fat Man’s favorite, and for good reason. I was strong enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, and fast enough to have been the lead reindeer for the last dozen years. No one had ever come close to challenging my authority.
And then there was Steve.
Continue reading “The Reindeer Games: The Battle Royale Begins”

The Reindeer Games: Catching Ire

To fully enjoy “Catching Ire,” read “The Reindeer Games” first.
The Reindeer Games
“May the Claus be ever in your favor!”
With those words, Mrs. The Fat Man, bedecked in a bedazzling array of greens and reds, left the podium. Most of us sauntered away to find our mentors, to glean some parting wisdom from their past experiences in The Pole’s most formidable event.
The Reindeer Games were about to begin.
I’d lost track of Rue the night before, too wracked with inner guilt to see what had become of him. Now, I wanted to know who he’d gotten as a mentor. For the kid’s sake, I hoped he’d found someone good—maybe one of the grizzled elves that looked innocent enough, but knew how to wield a hammer.
I followed tiny hoofprints to a nearby grove of Christmas trees, a constant stream of smoke billowing above the tree line. The runt with the shiny nose had scampered off to Frosty’s igloo.
This did not bode well for the kid’s chances.
Continue reading “The Reindeer Games: Catching Ire”

The Reindeer Games

The Reindeer Games
What’s funny is that he didn’t seem all that bright when we first met him.
It was eons ago by now, but I can still remember when he was the new kid in The Pole. Droopy-eared, pointy-nosed and chicken-legged, he cautiously approached our circle and introduced himself. So self-conscious it made us uncomfortable, his name slipped through his lips like melting water, quick to escape with as little notice as possible.
“So your name’s Rue?” I asked.
He nodded, barely.
“You’re gonna get killed out there,” I said over my shoulder.
Dash, Dan, and Don snickered, their typical reply for most anything.
“I don’t even know why The Fat Man would’ve picked a pipsqueak like you anyways. You got some kinda special ability? Can your stick legs leap midget squirrels in a single bound? Does your Pinnochio nose always point north? Are you so quiet that no one even knows you exist?”
In hindsight that might have been a bit much. He was just a kid then.
“I’m just me,” he whispered. “Nothing special.”
“You got that right, and you better remember it when The Reindeer Games begin. Hope you get a good mentor.”
“Reindeer Games? What are the Reindeer Games?”
Continue reading “The Reindeer Games”