If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our October Author Interviews--10/4 Wendy Tyson, 10/11 Marilyn Levinson, 10/18 Earl Javorski, 10/25 Linda Lovely. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.
October Saturday Guest Bloggers: 10/7 Mark Bacon, 10/14 Elaine Orr, 10/21 WWK's Margaret S. Hamilton, 10/28 Kait Carson, and E. B. Davis 10/31 to fill out our fifth Tuesday.
WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla! Look for Carla's blog this month to find out the winner.
Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:
Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.
Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.
In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.
Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.
Friday, July 23, 2010
The First Chapter Coloring Project
This is one addiction I have embraced for a writing exercise that involves highlighters. The purpose is to highlight (literally) a persistent problem with opening chapters: excess backstory.
I am often asked about common errors or mistakes by new writers. One is too much story history, too early on. Even experienced writers have difficulty holding back sharing everything pertinent about the characters and past events populating a story. Writers should know their characters inside out; they should thoroughly research settings; they should give depth to their work. Much of this translates into backstory. Backstory is important in that provides meaning and logic to why characters act as they do. Sometimes, in crime stories, backstory is what brings the current story to life. Backstory may be a mystery, or solve a mystery.
Backstory can also kill a first chapter.
The purpose of a first chapter is to hook a reader into a story that is happening now. There are countless ways to do this, but one sure way to kill the hook is to interrupt the action with constant and/or long paragraphs of what happened before now. Too much backstory in the first chapter impedes the developing tension. Spending huge chunks of time on past events makes the events of now seem less important. Going off on long tangents about the setting feels like a history lesson. Explaining in minute detail a character’s life since potty training robs the reader of figuring out some of that for themselves.
In short, too much backstory makes a first chapter boring.
But backstory is important to the story, and some of it vital. So how do you tell what’s vital and what’s not? Where do you put it? How much is too much? How do you tell if backstory is flooding out the other necessary parts of your chapter?
Here’s help. Grab a copy of a first chapter and a set of highlighters, and color out each chapter as follows:
Action in BLUE
Dialogue in GREEN
Description in YELLOW
Backstory in PINK
Sounds simple, right? Maybe not. Action is not just car chases and discovering dead bodies. It’s anything the characters do that drive the plot. Dialogue and description seem self-explanatory, but what if the dialogue is screaming at someone to jump, run, duck, look out! Is that action or dialogue? And description—it’s easy if you are showing what a person looks like or what color car they drive, but is a blow-by-blow of a criminal as he sneaks away description, or action?
No one said writing wasn’t complicated. The second, hidden, value of this exercise is that it makes you examine what you are writing and consider what makes action action, and so on.
What is the easiest part of the exercise? Identifying the backstory. It’s all that stuff that’s not happening now. In this exercise, it’s the simplest to define, and the hardest to discard.
No one said writing isn’t full of irony, either.
Once the pages are colored, examine the balance. It’s an illuminating moment to see a story broken down into elemental colors. It can be a disturbing one if the vision is washed in any one hue. For a crime novels, the more blue the better. A steady sprinkling of green is excellent, too. Some passages, even longish ones, of yellow are acceptable.
If you find yourself looking at a bit of pink, don’t panic. Like the other colors, pink is necessary. Pages of pink? Still don’t panic—-do this instead. At each section of pink, ask these questions:
Does this section bring the action of the story to a halt?
If so, is this information vital to the story as a whole?
If yes, can this chapter work if this information is saved for later?
If the backstory is killing the action, but is nevertheless important for the plot to make sense, it belongs in the story. The next question is, does it belong in the first chapter?
To decide this, remove the pink section and read the chapter without it. If the action makes sense, even without the extra layer of pink info, it can be moved until later. Question the placement of each pink section until the color scheme is, in your mind, properly balanced.
While this process is designed for an opening, it works just as well in subsequent chapters. Any time the action feels bogged down, print out the chapter and break out the highlighters. Or, run to the office supply store and buy a new set.
For the greenie authors, or those not plagued with ongoing desire for new office stuff, this can be done onscreen as well. Simply use background colors as highlighters. It's the same premise, same effect.
Go on, give it a try.