Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Pied Writer

Let's Take It Back.... Way...Back!

Hello, my faithful readers. How the heck are you? If you just answered that question to your computer out loud then you are truly a reader after my own heart.
In Today’s edition of The Pied Writer I’m going to be addressing the hot button issue known as: back story or background information.
Now, I’m by no means an authority on the subject and I’ve often found myself wandering down the rocky path of “where the hell does it go” and “how much is too much”. As a writer I know how important it is to bring your characters to life by giving them amazing back story that gets peppered through the entire book. As a reader I want to be drawn into the story by three dimensional characters with thick layers and rich, interesting lives.

However, there is a time and place for everything.
First, I’ll ask the question: how long do you have to be in the presence of an asshole to know the person you’re speaking with is an asshole? The answer: probably not long.

Why is that?

I mean, really, they didn’t come up to you and give you a blow by blow of how they got to be the way they are, but you can almost immediately figure out that there is either a stick somewhere it shouldn’t be or someone’s head is placed snuggly up their own rear. So, how do you come to such a bold conclusion about someone or their behavior? Actions.

Actions speak far louder than words ever will. Asshole actions usually consist of someone being short with you, unprovoked rudeness, eye rolling, snide comments, insulting, brash, walking around with a false inflated sense of self-worth, and a plethora of other things.
If you’re a frequent reader of The Pied Writer you’re probably thinking this topic is a little deep for me to write about. Normally, I keep my blogging pretty light, but while doing my weekly reading of ten novels a week I kept being slapped in the face by backstory.

The final straw that broke the camel’s back was when I read a book that literally had about three chapters worth of backstory with little to no interaction between the main characters and anyone else. The main characters spent an absurd amount of time inside their heads. I’m not exaggerating when I say the character would be asked a question by a minor character or reminded of something and then that would trigger the longest most boring internal dialogue I’ve ever read.

Literally, one question put the main character in their own head for about six pages then by the time they got around to answering the question or responding I’d completely forgotten what the hell happened. I had to keep going back and figuring out what the question or other characters original comment was. YIKES!

Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t keep reading, which is something I rarely do. I usually finish a book no matter how bad it is but this one, I couldn’t. At least not without banging my head against a wall, the sad thing is that the premise was wonderful. I wanted to like the book but I got fed up with the characters just staring off into space thinking of everything and everyone they’d ever met or would meet and how they impacted their lives to bring them to where they were at the present.

I mean, really, how often do you just stare off into space while in the midst of conversation and think about everyone you know, their backgrounds, your relationship to them, exactly what they look like and so on and so forth? I hope the answer is never because if you do then conversations with you would become quite tedious and aggravating for the person talking to you. And quite frankly, I’d like to be warned that I’m speaking to someone who does immediate on the spot self-reflection.

Here’s how I handle background information, I used the word before, but I’ll use it again, I pepper it in. Make it relevant to what’s going on, I create scenes that show rather than tell the background if it’s important, and I have a rule that I never let my characters stay in their heads for more than a short paragraph or two when they are in conversation or action. My process goes a bit more in depth but that’s the basic idea.

My questions for the readers: what is your biggest pet peeve when reading a book? What makes you stop reading and never pick up the book again? How much do you want to know about your characters and what could you do without?

My questions for writers: how do you handle background? Do you have any hard and fast rules to keep the show moving?

Well, I guess that’s it for this Wednesday’s edition of The Pied Writer. Wow, I really gotta master the art of the short blog, huh? Now you see why I don’t write short stories, it just ain’t possible for me. I’m full of hot air.

Happy trails party people. Catch you next Wednesday and don’t forget to check me out Sunday for the new Six Sunday posting.

This has been a public service announcement brought to you by…

The Pied Piper

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