Two months ago, in the article on expanding your world beyond the confines of your story, a commenter asked how much backstory she should include. I pointed out that your readers will assume that the history you’re giving them will play some role in the plot. The questioner had never thought about the link between backstory and readers’ expectations before. Now she is a little more aware of the web of connections between different parts of her writing.
I’ve written about this web in passing, while talking about genre, but it’s critical enough that it deserves a column of its own. Quite simply, you cannot write well if you’re not aware of how every aspect of your writing affects every other aspect of your writing.
This awareness doesn’t develop overnight. Most writers get into writing because they fall in love with one particular element of storytelling – getting to know an intriguing character, the joy of creating dialogue, the thrill of the slow ramp up to the denouement. When you start out, you aren’t yet aware of all the different moving parts that make up a novel – how you need to use beats to anchor characters in a physical location, say, or make sure each character’s dialogue has a distinctive vocabulary and cadence.
Even when you start to learn these things – reading books of writing advice or columns like this one – it’s easy to overlook the connections between the various bits of your writing. Those of us who write about writing tend to delve deep into one aspect of writing at a time. If you read enough advice like this, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking a novel is made up of discrete parts that you can just fasten together, tab A into slot B. If what you’re learning is something you’ve never thought of before, it’s easy to get so excited about it that it becomes the solution to all of your writing problems. When all you’ve got is microtension, everything looks like a scene that drags. [Read more…]