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I am a writer - late developer since I wasn't published until I was 50. I have now written 23 novels, numerous short stories and articles.

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Monday, 17 August 2009
In middle market fiction, editors look for immediacy, for action, for characters set firmly in their present. And characters that are real, believable, and ones that the reader will like and care about – it has to be said that if they don’t then we have failed. We all have a past as do the characters in our books. They arrive with their baggage, just as real people do. Their past is relevant since people are moulded by it. But how they are and any problems you give them need to be relevant to the type of person you’ve created and, importantly, to the plot. So, given that the present is so important, how do we deal with this past? If you meet a person for the first time you don't expect to know everything about them immediately, do you? You learn about them bit by bit, you get to know them, make judgements about them. So it is in a book. Too much too soon will not only slow pace but you will lose the immediacy. I prefer to drip feed the information, it is far safer that way. First and foremost we need our readers to like or be interested or to have a concern for the person we are writing about. When this is achieved, their curiosity is woken and they want to know more. Ideally this is when you slip in information about the past, or even use flashbacks. Just plonking it in, when you want to inform, does not work. It is unnatural, and it is clumsy. So how to do it? Remember the triggers of memory - which take you back; a smell, a piece of music, a sound etc. You can use conversation with the so helpful Do you remember? And don't forget that someone else can relay information from the past about others in the book. However, there are times when it is necessary to tell about the past very early, and then my advice is if you can’t keep it brief, then writing a large amount about this person’s past is easier at the beginning and I would try and get it as close to the start as possible. If you use flashbacks to inform then please make sure that you make it obvious that there is a shift in time. You can say so. You can leave a line space which will indicate a different time. As with everything in writing it is important to ask yourself constantly how necessary is this information? Do we need to know this? Is it relevant to the story? Does it further the plot, the characterisation? Or, ask, am I being self-indulgent. Rest assured, the intertwining of the past, making it flawless and interesting is difficult and hard to do.

4 comments:

  1. I've just come to this blog after reading a message from you on the Romna email and I'm so glad I did. I have bookmarked it and will read, mark,learn and inwardly digest it all every day! Thanks, Anita!

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  2. Just read this post and found it interesting because I am currently rewriting last year's NWS entry and have decided to put flashbacks and bits of the past of the hero. I was going to put lots in one chapter but like you said, it's best to drip feed it through the novel, which is what I am going to do now. Very of the moment for me.
    Thanks.

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  3. Very useful advice just now - while I'm having my backstory doubts and hacking it all out! Thanks Annie.

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