Thursday, September 01, 2005

Backstory

I like stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end - with the backstory dropped in detail by subtle detail.
I like a story that grows like a trumpet vine to entrap and enthrall me - like good sex as opposed to rape. In fact, I'm one of those who read a few pages of the end of a book first, not the beginning, to decide if I want to buy it.
Sadly, though I don't wear the bottoms of my...um...trousers rolled, it seems my tastes are old-fashioned, decidedly out-of-date and passe. The mantra these days is for an explosive beginning, not just an engaging one. A reflection on our frenetic life style, I suppose.
Unless my chosen read is an action thriller, like say, a Mack Bolan ( yes, I have low taste, at times) I don't expect a slam-bam-thank-you ma-am type of beginning. I do like to read Mack Bolan books now and then though. I dig out my son's old cache and sit, fascinated by the body count. Page 18 and 38 bad guys blown away. HUA!
The big problem with a bombshell opening is that, by necessity, the writer usually then has the task of working in loads and loads of backstory immediately subsequent. And that often really screws the pace.
Some writers came up with a solution to this problem by ressurecting The Prologue. My eyebrows climbed when I discovered this little trick recently. Prologues, you see, I tended to associate with prose from previous centuries. But now, in some genre fiction, every damned story has... A Prologue. However, from mutterings by agents and editors I've read hither and yon, this device is in serious danger of wearing out its welcome.
Oh yes, backstory.
In an attempt to "mak siccar" like Roger Kirkpatrick when he offed John Comyn, I dug out The Tempest yesterday to answer Douglas Hoffman' s question on this blog. Doug's blog is titled "shatter" and it's an entertaining read.
Anyway, it was a hoot. After a rousing opening with the shipwreck and things like: You do assist the storm..down the topmast...A pox 'o your throat, you bawling, blashphemous, incharitable dog!...hang you whoreson...All lost! to prayers, to prayers... Shakespeare proceeded to include several pages of backstory, a veritable dump. However, this is theatah, dawling, with actors moving about to engage the audience while the necessary information is dispensed. Writers don't have that added diversion.
Writers have to watch their back.

4 comments:

Muse said...

Lovely (brilliant, actually) outing of Shakespeare, the old (dead) bastard. Any other readers out there interested in penning imaginary rejection letters modern agents / editors might have written to the Bard?

- too incestuous
- too ghostwritten
- too much political incorrectness

et cetera.

Bernita said...

Thank you.
It's fun to do that.
And there are the instances where writers have deliberately submitted the opening of an acclaimed classic to recalcitrant editors/contests. Which, besides the dubious pleasure of being able to say "ha, ha, you're stupid" to said editors, doesn't really prove anything, except that subjectivity does indeed affect the odds.Especially after you've survived to the point of the meager 1-2%.
Sad to say, some writers use such examples to avoid certain harsh realities.
These fun and games do provide hope, faint false glimmer though it might be.

Douglas Hoffman said...

Thanks for the shout, Bernita. Hopefully one day soon I'll finish editing my novel and get the *^*&#! published, cuz I know it would pass your test.

*No prologue. Well, it used to have one, but I decided it had become so damned big I would make it chapter 1.

*Little or no backstory.

*Gets even better in the last 100 pages.

Now, if I can just get you past the science fiction hurdle . . .

Best regards.

Bernita said...

Doug:
Hurdle?
I love science fiction/fantasy.
I re-read Heinlein once a year, and Modesitt, and Norton and G.G Kay and...
Hurry up. I'm drooling.