Write Fab Back Story: Not BS!

By Margie Lawson

A huge THANK YOU to the amazing Laura Drake for inviting me to be her guest today!

Don’t put BS on your pages!

Write back story that is fresh and compelling.

Readers need some back story. They need to know a few critical points that happened before your story opened. Those points are the motivators for your POV character’s decisions and actions. Those back story points drive your story.

Way too often, back story is stagnant. Flat. Boring.

Agents quit reading.

Aack!

Writers may think the reader needs all the cool history the writer created. They share it in chunks.

But when back story is shared in chunks, it stops the momentum. Stops the story. Tempts the reader to skim. 

When a reader skims, they’re not engaged. They’re not connected to the characters. They’re not hooked.

They don’t care what happens. They can quit reading.

The best way to include the absolutely required back story and keep your novel fast-paced, is to sprinkle it in your story.

The reader needs to know a few hits of back story, just enough to understand your story.

Mark Sullivan (mystery/suspense/thriller writer) has a smart plan for back story management.

I call it:  How to Manage Your BS.

How to Manage Your BS

Make a list of back story points you think the reader needs to know.

Grab a highlighter and circle what the reader absolutely must know.  Let go of points you thought were important, but don’t need to include. Only circle the points the reader absolutely must know.

Picture the BS points you circled etched on a sheet of glass.

Got it?

You’re imagining those points imprinted on a rectangle of glass.

Imagine carrying that sheet of glass to a brick patio.

Imagine standing on a brick patio, holding that sheet of glass.

You know what’s coming!

Drop that sheet of glass.  Watch it shatter.

Imagine picking up one shard of glass at a time – and slipping each sliver of back story in your first 100 pages.

Slip shards of back story in dialogue. Or use a cadence-driven rhetorical device to share several hits of back story. Write fresh. Keep it short. You’ve got the first 100 pages of your book to fit in each sliver of back story.

You’ll be so good at slipping in back story that you’ll have a smooth, fast-paced, compelling read.

When I heard Mark Sullivan share that manage-your-back-story visual, it resonated with me. Great visual. Great plan.

Let’s dive into some examples of finessing back story.

The Woods, by Harlan Coben.  Prologue, first page, third paragraph:

I have never seen my father cry before—not when his own father died, not when my mother ran off and left us, not even when he first heard about my sister, Camille.

Please read it again. This time, read it OUT LOUD.

I have never seen my father cry before—not when his own father died, not when my mother ran off and left us, not even when he first heard about my sister, Camille.

Analysis: What did Harlan Coben accomplish, and how?

He used the rhetorical device, anaphora. He gave the reader several hits of back story in one eloquent sentence.

What were his back story points?

  • Our POV character had never seen his father cry before
  • Our POV character’s father didn’t even cry when his father died
  • Our POV character’s mother ran off and left them
  • Something bad happened to his sister, Camille

Four hits of powerful back story in thirty-three words.

Strong cadence. Informative. Fast-paced. Intriguing. Enticing.

No chunk of back story the reader is tempted to skim.

Plus – that one sentence introduces the story questions. Always important to get on your first page.

Why is his father crying now?

Why did his mother run off and leave them?

What happened to his sister, Camille?

Anaphora is a powerful cadence-driven rhetorical device. It’s one of thirty rhetorical devices I teach in Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More. It starts Feb. 3rd.

Stop Me, by Brenda Novak, Chapter 1:

But Jasmine’s thoughts were so focused on what was in her lap, she couldn’t even raise her hand. She’d made that bracelet as a gift for her little sister. She remembered Kimberly’s delight when she’d unwrapped it on her eighth birthday, her last birthday before the tall man with the beard entered their house in Cleveland one sunny afternoon and took her away.

Analysis: 

Look at that smooth passage. In just three sentences, Brenda Novak covered multiple hits of back story.

  • She showed how seeing her sister’s bracelet impacted Jasmine.
  • She tapped emotion by sharing that the POV character made the bracelet for her little sister.
  • She shared her sister’s joy.
  • She slips in her sister’s age and the city.
  • She shared this critical story point. Her sister was kidnapped.

The cadence is strong. The words drive the reader through the paragraph.

Divorced, Desperate, and Deceived, Christie Craig

From Chapter 1, page 3:

“Did he bring her with him when he picked up Tommy?” Sue asked.

Kathy wished she could pretend she didn’t understand the question. Wished she’d never told them that Tom had married TOW, “The Other Woman.” But during the last Jack Daniel’s night—at which, quite unfairly, neither Sue nor Lacy could imbibe—Kathy had accidentally spilled her guts. Or at least she’d spilled a bit of them. The big secrets were still in the bag. And they could stay bagged. It would take more than a couple shots of Jack for her to hang out her dirty laundry. Even to her two closest friends.

Analysis:

Christie Craig shares her humor and her talent in this fast-paced addictive romance. This passage is a light read that carries humor hits and a big hit of mysterious back story.

Kathy has secrets, big secrets, so big that she won’t divulge these secrets to her two best friends.

Hmm – makes you want to read more. Right?

When back story is finessed, it draws you in. Keeps the story moving. Makes the read more compelling.

Share slivers of back story in fresh and compelling ways.

Analyze your writing. Deep edit your scenes. Make your back story carries style and power. Make your back story boost your writing onto a best seller list!

We’ll wrap up with examples from two more books, both by Margie-Grad, Laura Drake!

The Sweet Spot, Laura Drake

From Page One:

The homing beacon in the Valium bottle next to the sink tugged at her insides.

She sipped a glass of water to avoid reaching for it and glanced out the window to the spring-skeletal trees of the back yard.

Her gaze returned to the two-foot wide stump the way a tongue wanders to a missing tooth. Tentative grass shoots had sprung up to obscure the obscene scar in the soil.

She hadn’t thought that an innocent tree could kill a child.

She hadn’t thought that an innocent coed could kill a marriage.

And if those pills could kill the thinking, she’d take ten.

Look how many hits of back story Laura Drake shared on page one in that squeeze-your-heart passage.

  • She needs Valium, but she’s trying not to take it.
  • Something horrible happened right outside her kitchen window, and that two-foot wide stump is a constant trigger for her emotional pain.
  • Somehow that tree killed a child. Most readers would assume, her child.
  • Her husband had an affair.
  • She wishes she could stop thinking.

Laura’s passage shares critical back story. Her writing is fresh, strong, emotive. Not an invitation to skim!

Nothing Sweeter, by Laura Drake, was just released three days ago. Laura worked on Nothing Sweeter in an Immersion Master Class she took from me in May, 2011. 

Nothing Sweeter, Laura Drake

The Opening:

Her “new” life was going to be so much better than the last one. Aubrey Madison would make sure of that.

She savored the sight of a solitary saguaro standing sentinel on the flat Arizona landscape. She savored the red-tipped ocotillo branches that waved in the stiff breeze of the Jeep’s passing. She even savored the chilled air that swirled in, raising the hair on her body in an exquisite shiver.

God, it’s good to be out of prison.

Her face felt odd, until she realized she was smiling.

Glancing at the gas gauge, she vowed to stop soon, only long enough to get gas and use the restroom. She had to keep putting on distance.

What if it’s not possible to outrun your own conscience?

The pull from the road in front of her was as strong as the push from the vision in her rearview mirror.

From Page Two:

Her gaze locked on the black-flecked mirror. The ropey scar twisted from behind her ear to the bow of her collarbone, looking like something out of a slasher movie. Shiny. Raw. Angry. She jerked her gaze away, turned the water on full force in the sink, and tried once again to wash away the shame.

In her mind, she saw the sign she’d woken up to in the prison infirmary, hanging on the wall across from her bed.

If you’re going through hell, keep going. ~ Winston Churchill

Beautiful writing. Laura slipped in critical back story, but it’s fresh and smooth, intriguing and compelling.

Analyze your writing. Deep edit your scenes. Make your back story carry style and power. Make your back story boost your writing onto a bestseller list!

What hits of back story did Laura share? You tell me. It’s your turn now! Chime in. Post a comment!

If you like, post two or three hits of back story in your comment.

Or – dig deeper, and share some back story points the reader infers. Not something Laura wrote, but something the reader picks up.

Or – post a comment that just says Hi! 

You’re here. Go ahead and click on the small font below that reads: Comments. Don’t be shy!

If you comment, you’ll be included in a drawing for one of my online courses on writing craft offered through Lawson Writer’s Academy.

Laura here:  Margie will draw the winner on Sunday, 8PM, Mountain Time.

Upcoming Courses from Lawson Writer’s Academy:

1. Submissions That Sell, Instructor: Laura Drake

2. Taking a Book from Good to Sold, Instructor:  NYT Bestseller Shirley Jump

3. Getting Serious About Writing a Series, Instructor: Lisa Wells

4. Action & Fighting in Fiction: Writing Authentic Choreography with Precision and Bite, Instructor:  Tiffany Lawson Inman

5.  Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More, Instructor:  Margie Lawson

6. February 1 thru April 10 –  Fab 30: Advanced Deep Editing, A Master Class, Instructor:  Margie Lawson

Read course descriptions and register here: www.MargieLawson.com.

About Margie

Margie LawsonMargie Lawson—editor, international presenter— teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners.

Margie has presented over eighty full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Writers who have studied her material credit her innovative deep editing approaches with taking their writing several levels higher—to publication, awards, and bestseller lists.

To learn about online courses through Lawson Writer’s Academy, Margie’s 4-day Immersion Master Classes (in 2013: in Colorado, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Columbus, and on Whidbey Island), her full day and weekend Master Class presentations, keynote speeches, Lecture Packets, and newsletter, visit www.margielawson.com.

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160 Responses to Write Fab Back Story: Not BS!

  1. LauraDrake says:

    Margie, thanks as always, for bringing us your wisdom. And thanks for citing my writing!

    My litmus test for backstory is: Does it raise a question in a reader that they’ll have to read on to find the answer to?

    Or tell them something they haven’t asked yet?

    • Normandie says:

      Obviously, your backstory passed the litmus test, Laura. Love the excerpts!

      Excellent article, Margie.

    • Laura —

      Great questions!

      I’m always so excited to read your new books. I know I’ll find fabulous examples of body language. And dialogue cues. And visceral responses. And character descriptions. And rhetorical devices. And chapter openings and endings. Stellar examples of everything I teach!

      Kudos to you!

    • Amanda Pedersen w/a Renee Henry says:

      Hi Laura and Margie!

      Laura – thanks for having Margie on your blog and thanks also for sharing your litmus test for BS, I think that’s an excellent way to think about it.

      Margie – Thanks, as always, for your wisdom! I’m so excited about taking another Fab 30 this month!!!

  2. daphodill says:

    Reblogged this on Daphodill's Garden and commented:
    More good advice on managing you characters’ backstories.

  3. Betty Bolte says:

    Hi Margie! I try to keep in mind that the reader mostly wants to know what’s going on now in the story but also needs to know why the characters are acting/reacting the way they are. That’s when the backstory hit needs to happen, at the first moment when it informs the character’s motivation. Thanks for sharing these tips!

    • Betty —

      Yes! And the fun challenge is slipping in the sliver of back story in a fresh and compelling way. That’s when knowing how and when to use 30 rhetorical devices is oh-so-handy. 🙂

      Thanks for chiming in. You’re in the drawing for a free online class!

  4. Rebecca White says:

    Whenever I find a Margie post, I try to absorb it faster than a dry sponge! Thanks for the help,Margie, especially Mike Sullivan’s take on managing BS with the “shattered glass” technique. (And thank you, too, Margie, for being a wiener-dog lady. My miniature doxies Nitro and Hank have your picture posted in their dog cave.)

    Great post, great advice. Thanks again!

    • Rebecca —

      Fresh simile!

      Ah… Another mini-dachshund lover! I bet Nitro and Hank and Calypso would have a high-energy meet-and-greet!

      Glad the shattered-glass imagery stayed with you. It will help you make your writing stronger.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Great post Margie. I loved the shattered glass analogy when you told us in Immersion class. A clear images that sticks with me. Thanks for the wonderful examples. See you in FAB30.

    • Hugs to Immersion-Grad Suzanne P!

      The shattered glass imagery is memorable, and a WIP-saver!

      Yay! I’ll get to work with you again in Fab 30! See you in class tomorrow!

  6. morgynstarz says:

    OK, now you’ve got me thinking about taking this class as well. Like I’ll have the time, LOL. Great post.

    • Hello Morgyn!

      Learning how and when to use thirty rhetorical devices to empower style, structure, and strategy is tempting. 🙂

      Hope I get to work with you in an online class sometime!

      Or maybe I’ll meet you when I’m presenting this year. I’m presenting in a dozen states, including San Antonio for RWA National. The other cities are listed on my home page under: Where’s Margie in 2014?

      Thanks for chiming in!

  7. Lara McGill says:

    Fabulous advice! Going in my save file immediately.

  8. I loved these examples, and the shards of glass are a fabulous image that will stay with me. Thank you!

  9. I’m fascinated by this whole idea of anaphora. I haven’t heard this term before and would like to learn more. I did love the rhythm of that particular passage.

    • Leslie —

      The cadence in Harlan Coben’s sentence hooked you. And now you want more!

      Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner almost always use anaphora in their first chapters, and often in their turning points. Smart NYT bestsellers!

      Anaphora is one of thirty rhetorical devices I teach in my Deep Editing course. It starts Feb. 3rd.

      You could learn lots more cadence-driven rhetorical devices to strengthen your writing!

  10. jamiebeck says:

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I get simultaneously motivated and intimidated when I read fantastic excerpts like those highlighted above! LOL Thanks for the helpful post. Back to the editing process…

    • Jamie —

      No need to be intimidated. You can learn how to deep edit to add power. And you can learn how to use thirty rhetorical devices. You don’t have to learn their names, just the structure. Easy — and empowering. 🙂

      Thank you for chiming in. I hope you have fun editing.

  11. Karen DAlessio says:

    Great post! This sounds like a great technique. (The shattered glass leaves a powerful image in the mind.) So glad to have read this post. Thank you for the insights.

    • Hello Karen —

      I teach dozens of strong and effective deep editing techniques. I encourage you to read the course descriptions.

      I developed most of my deep editing techniques. You won’t find them anyplace else.

      Sheesh! I don’t mean to be pushy. But how else will you know what you don’t know?

      My apologies if sharing info comes across the wrong way. Not my intention.

      Glad the shattered glass imagery worked for you. It’s a powerful image with a smart lesson!

  12. Margie you are amazing. Your tricks of the trade could make reading a grocery list exciting.

    • Hugs to Immersion Grad Lisa Wells!

      Your fresh writing makes readers excited!

      Have fun teaching your GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT WRITING A SERIES class.

      I believe this is your fourth time to teach it!

  13. Tammy Salyer says:

    Such a helpful post! Thank you!

    • Tammy —

      Something prompted me to click on your picture. I got hooked, and read your ABOUT TAMMY.

      Loved reading about you — especially this line:

      As an ex-paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, my writing is often as gritty as a grunt’s pile of three-week-old field gear.

      You slipped in your back story and your personality.

      Fresh writing!

      Compelling cadence!

      Fun alliteration.

      Fab hyphenated-run-on!

      Snickerable Humor Hit!

      All the above, and you deepened character too.

      Tammy — Your writing is strong. And I bet you’d love the deep editing goodies you’d learn in my classes.

      Maybe someday!

  14. Jaye Garland says:

    Excellent post! The shattered glass image is sure to stay embedded in my my mind, and I’ll be referring to that in all my future works. I’m sharing this post. Thank you for sharing your talent and skill with us!

    • Jaye —

      Thanks so much for sharing my blog!

      Love your name. Do you know Jaye Wells?

      USA Today Bestseller, and two-time Immersion-Grad, Jaye Wells?

      Jaye just had another book released, I believe it’s her ninth book — DIRTY MAGIC.

      She’s the only JAYE I know. Besides you.🙂

      Thanks for posting!

      BTW — I’m a little sleep deprived. Possibly punchy-chatty.

      • Jaye Garland says:

        Margie, no, I haven’t met Jaye Wells, but I do know OF her. Would love to meet her and compare Jaye stories. I’m thrilled to know you’re going to RWA San Antonio. That’s my Hubby’s home town. I’m driving over from Houston. I’ll be in your workshop, for sure. Hugs!

  15. Pingback: Margie Lawson – Write Fab Back Story: Not BS! | ~ Jaye's Days ~

  16. rolandclarke says:

    Invaluable advice. Have an opening that editor has asked me to rewrite as needs to be clearer and crisper, but still have shards of BS. You’ve got my mind thinking and plotting. Thank you.

    • Roland —

      I like jostling brain cells. I love stretching minds.

      Oliver Wendell Holmes said:
      A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension.

      Big-time mind-stretching opportunities in my writing craft courses!

  17. Thank you for such an informative post, Margie. Loved the examples, especially Laura’s. I’m going back to my wip and look at my backstory “dribbles” throughout the novel.

  18. Margie,

    Great examples. Writers should read those before doing their own backstories. We screenwriters must write external, so we don’t have the luxury of explaining, like a novel can. So screenwriters have to know the backstory for their characters’ dialogue, actions and subtext. THIS IS MY METHOD: Do you truly understand your characters’ backgrounds, WHO ARE THEY? Don’t be lazy: get the background work done with characters even if it is after you have completed the first draft. You must know your characters’ physiology (their appearance – physical attributes or defects), sociology (social class, education, religion, politics, hobbies), and psychology (moral standards, ambitions, temperament, attitudes, obsessions, I.Q., talents). Your protagonist must have a flaw that will be corrected or changed as your story progresses.

  19. Gerri says:

    I have a prologue in my novel. Which I know is backstory. Maybe I should cut it into slivers? Yikes!

  20. Linda Basinger says:

    Aha! That turned on the light bulb. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Linda —

      That super-duper spotlight-sized flash of light was you?

      You were as bright as one of Darynda Jones’s characters, Charley Davidson. She’s the Grim Reaper. And she’s mega-mega-bright. Dead people can see her from anywhere in the world.

      Glad you chimed in! Now you’re in the drawing.

      Hope I get to see hundreds more flashes of light from you!

  21. abbyjreed says:

    I love the image of slipping broken glass into the first 100 pages of the story. A great way to think about how much backstory to put in at a time.

  22. Sharla Rae says:

    LOVE your blog and advice Margie. I just started a new chapter to a new book and did what I always do with a first draft, wrote too much back story. This blog gives me some great ideas.

  23. susielindau says:

    Hi Margie! We met at the Colorado Gold Fiction Writer’s Conference.
    I know exactly where I am going after I post this comment. I have at least one paragraph of backstory I can improve. Love the glass shard analogy. I think I can break it down a little more.

  24. abbyjreed says:

    Reblogged this on Abby J Reed and commented:
    Margie Lawson wrote a guest post on Writers In The Storm blog. Her courses/advice is FANTASTIC. If I had to pick one person who most improved my writing, it’s her. AND she’s giving away a free course to a random commenter. Comment, comment, comment!!

  25. Dot says:

    Margie, I am just beginning my first novel (after centuries of talking about writing it “some day”), and this post was most helpful. I started your daughter’s class “Madness to Method” but, unfortunately, was unable to complete it due to some personal issues that overwhelmed me. I’ve purchased several of your informative packets, but now I’m thinking I should try taking one of your on-line courses as well. Do you have a suggestion for a newbie writer with only 10,000 words under her belt?

    • Dot —

      I recommend taking Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More. Class starts on Monday, Feb. 3rd.

      You may already have the Empowering Characters’ Emotions lecture packet, if not, I recommend ordering that lecture packet. It’s available through Paypal from my web site.
      I teach Empowering Characters’ Emotions every January. So I won’t teach it again until 2015!

      The third course I recommend you taking is Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist. I teach it online in March.

      I teach all my online courses through Lawson Writer’s Academy, on my web site.

      I look forward to working with you!

    • LauraDrake says:

      And Dot, (interjecting myself here) I’ve bought the packets – but I got SO much more out of taking an online course with Margie – you not only get her looking over your work – you get the whole class’s input! AND they keep you motivated!

  26. Thanks as always, Margie. The gems you bring to WITS and to your academy are invaluable. Love the passages you sited, especially our good buddy , Laura Drake. It was through your class and talking to Laura that I chopped, amputated, and otherwise removed the cancer of my long-winded BS passages. It forced me to find better, more creative ways to say what needs to be said and nothing else🙂

  27. Claudia Levin says:

    Hi Margie! That was a very informative post. I have been trying to decide whether to use a prologue in my book, but now I think I will just dribble it in. I love that glass analogy, too. also, I had never heard of anaphora before–fascinating!

    • Claudia —

      Thank you! Glad my blog shared some new information.

      Regarding prologues, I shared a link for a post from Kristin Nelson in my response to Gerri: Why Prologues Often Don’t Work.
      Scroll up and check it out.

      Ah! You’re intrigued with anaphora. It’s one of thirty rhetorical devices I cover in my February class: Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More.

      Deep Editing starts Feb. 3rd. Hope to see you in class!

  28. I just finished my manuscript and now have a great tool to check out the BS. Thank you.

    • Lori —

      Glad you’ll check your back story!

      I feel compelled to add, please check out the descriptions of my online courses. My deep editing techniques, and my EDITS System, could help you asses your scenes and edit to add more power.

      Trust Laura Drake!

  29. Addy Rae says:

    I really enjoy posts I see from you, and they always make me think. Thank you for sharing!

    • Addy —

      Thank you so much!

      I hope I get to work with you in an online class sometime. You could learn sooooo much more!

      Honest. You’ve found my blogs helpful. Reach out, try my Deep Editing class!

      • Addy Rae says:

        I do have two of your course packets. (I may have begged my husband for them for Christmas.) I’m working through Empowering Characters’ Emotions right now, and I hope to take one of your classes in the future!

  30. Amy Pfaff says:

    Great post and great class. I’ve been in Empowering character emotions this month. Learned so much. I struggle with how much BS to include and when. I’ve found that prewriting in notebooks really helps me get it on paper and then I can pick and choose what I want to put in. If I leave it out and need it later, I have it written down to refer to.

    Thanks,
    Amy Pfaff

    • Hello Amy!

      Glad you’ve learned so much in Empowering Characters’ Emotions class. I’ve enjoyed working with you all.

      Great plan to write your back story — and use what you need.

      I’m looking forward to seeing you in Charlotte when I present on March 29th!

  31. Wow Margie. This wasn’t a just a post, this was a fabulous class. Thanks for sharing so much of one of your lectures.

    • Denny –

      Ah — Thank you!

      I wrote the back story blog this week. It’s not a part of a lecture. But I am developing a how-to-manage-backstory workshop for conferences. 🙂

      Looking forward to working with you in an Immersion class — somewhere!

  32. inkingdreams says:

    The passages leaves the reader with small whiffs of this character’s troubled past with only a few words. Very powerful and compelling to read. Great job.

  33. LizEverly says:

    Thanks Margie, for the informative post. I had a chance to take another one of your classes last year at the Va. Romance Writers. It was fabulous!

    • Liz —

      Ah — Thank you! I love presenting and working with writers. It’s my kind of fun.

      I’d love to come back to Virginia Romance Writers in 2015. We could schedule an Immersion class in Virginia before or after I presented.

      Hope to see you in an online class sometime!

  34. Margie! Hi! I miss you.😦 You’re coming to my GA RWA chapter in April, though, so expect some major space invasion. Love what you share here. Always appreciate your insights and the tools you give us to make us (ME!) better writers. I will never forget this summer when I did your immersion course and you basically cut the first 2 chapters of my MS and called it BS! LOL. That was some MAJOR glass shattering, but you were right. I’ve moved forward with that MS without half that stuff. And the shards of glass I kept I’ve sprinkled into the first 100 pages…and a little beyond. Can’t thank you enough.

    If you’re considering taking one of her courses…believe me! You should! It has been the most transformative thing I’ve done as a writer.

    • Kennedy —

      I didn’t CALL your first two chapters BS, as in BS! But I did share that the best place to start your book was Chapter 3.

      You forgot to mention that three months after Immersion class, you got your first contract! A three-book deal with Grand Central!

      I’m excited and proud of your success!

      Yes — We’ll get together in April in Atlanta. Can’t wait to see you and Darcy and Kimberle and Romily and all the ah-mazing Georgia Margie-grads!

      • yes, BS as in backstory.🙂

        Oh, yeah. I did leave the contract part out! LOL! (wink) I’m a sasy lil’ somethin’ or other, huh? And you LOVE me!🙂 I use the things you taught me DAILY. Every time I sit down to write. Bottomless gratitude.

        And, yes, can’t wait to see you in April. Lots of Margie grads in Atlanta who love you and can’t wait to see you.

  35. Hi Margie! Excellent post!

    I can’t wait for Deep Editing class to start on Monday! Right now I’m off to download Laura’s new book to my Kindle. Once I reached that line about her face feeling odd, I was hooked!

    • LauraDrake says:

      Oh, thanks so much, Sally! Let me know how you like it! Wouldn’t have made it to print without being ‘Margieized’. A term we at WITS have made up for the MANY things we’ve learned from her!

    • Sally —

      I enjoyed working with you in Empowering Characters’ Emotions this month. We’ll have even more fun in Deep Editing class. And, we’ll work, work, work.

      You’ll love Laura’s new book, NOTHING SWEETER!

  36. Thanks, Margie (and Laura!) for the great post. My heart sinks a little in my chest every time I open a book and see “Prologue” because most of the time it’s just a BS infodump and I never get to Chapter 1. The shattered glass shards might be frustrating for the writer to implement, but in the end the reader gets tantalized and not lobotomized. Which means, I need to go reread my WIP…..NOW!!!!

    • Hello Immersion-Grad Jane!

      Your talent is showing! Fab line:

      The shattered glass shards might be frustrating for the writer to implement, but in the end the reader gets tantalized and not lobotomized.

      Beautifully written, and true!

  37. Sharon Wray says:

    I always love hearing/reading this description of back story since it is something I really struggle with. I’ve even gone to the effort or writing down bits of BS and cutting up the paper and playing with the pieces on my desk as I revise. My kids think I’m crazy!

  38. toryleawrites says:

    Thank you so much! This article was incredibly helpful and easy to read (like you lecture packets:))

    • Tory —

      So you’ve been Margie-ized by independent study. A solo learner. One lecture packet after another.

      Hope I get to work with you in an online class sometime. We have more fun! Plus, you get my deep edit critiques.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  39. Diana Cosby says:

    Margie,
    Excellent! I always LOVE reading your posts, you have so much wonderful insight, and I’ve learned a ton from you over the years! I love your classes, they’ve taught me so much, and a huge help in writing my stories! And best, you’re a super nice person. Proud to be a Margie Grad! 🙂
    *Hugs*

    • LauraDrake says:

      I call all the Margie Grads “Margie’s Army”, Diana! All hail!

    • Hello Diana Cosby —

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for those accolades. I’m proud to claim you as a Margie-Grad!

      You took my first online courses, and attended my first full day workshop for writers, which was two full days. I believe that was 2004. We go way back. Way back to before you were published.

      And look at you now! Bestselling Author Diana Cosby!

  40. Very interesting, Margie! Thanks so much for sharing!

  41. jbiggar2013 says:

    Reblogged this on jbiggarblog and commented:
    love the mirror analogy, I need to learn that

  42. I am just finishing up Margie’s ECE class and boy was it eye opening. I loved the lesson that shared back story shards of glass.

    I also recently read The Sweet Spot, not my usual genre. But, I was completely and immediately hooked by the very passage Margie quoted. I had to know what happened to the POV’s child and why she had the Valium problem. Laura doesn’t tell you until the last few chapters. Sneaky and smart Laura!

  43. Carlyle says:

    What an appropriate acronym WITS is. And what a great post to help us keep our wits about us.
    ECE has been lovely, and I can’t wait for FAB30. Oh, and I think Laura’s heroine is innocent with a scar like that. BS that works double time.🙂
    S. Carlyle

    • LauraDrake says:

      Well, S., she is – and she isn’t. Hard to explain…guess you’ll just have to read the book!😉 Thank you!

      • Carlyle says:

        I will. You all teased me into it! Thanks. I got this idea that she was either in prison for self defense or something we’ll forgive and then, while there perhaps was cut b/c of waking up in prison infirmary. Is this a suspense? IDK. Now, I gotta go find out.🙂

    • Hey Shanda —
      So glad I got to know you in Empowering Characters’ Emotions class. I’m looking forward to more deep editing fun in Fab 30!

  44. Alanna Lucas says:

    Thank you for sharing such amazing insight. ECE has been a wonderful experience- thanks!

  45. HolyCow: “She savored the sight of a solitary saguaro standing sentinel on the flat Arizona landscape.” Look at all the S’s. Suh-weet!

    • LauraDrake says:

      Thanks, Jaxine – was afraid I went one ‘s’ too far…it does show that the author is playing with words, and that’s supposed to be a no-no. If the reader notices, it’s too much.

      But sometimes, a girl’s gotta do…

    • Hey Jax!

      I agree. That sentence is suh-weet!

      Smart Laura anchored the reader in the setting and the state in the third sentence of the book. It’s alliterative and smooth and cadence-driven. Works for me!

  46. Great post… THANKS!

  47. Joyce Ward says:

    Loving your ECE workshop. One of the best workshops I’ve ever taken. It has changed the way I write. I am also a big Laura fan and love reading excerpts from her novels. Am planning to take your upcoming Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More class. Thanks for sharing your expertise with us.

    • Joyce —

      Woohoo! ECE — one of the best workshops you’ve taken! Changed the way you write!

      THANK YOU!

      Can’t wait to stretch your brain some more in Deep Editing class! See you on MONDAY!

  48. julielrobinson says:

    I’m motivated every time I read one of Margie’s posts or take one of her classes (which I haven’t done in a while). Margie, I met you 2 years ago at the Dallas Writer’s Conference. I’m hoping to be able to go to San Antonio. Laura, Thanks for having Margie.

    • Hello Julie!

      Ah — Dallas! DARA is such an amazing group. Love ’em!

      Sounds like you’re past due for a Margie-class. Nudge. Nudge. 🙂

      Have you taken my first three writing craft courses?

      1. Empowering Characters’ Emotions
      2. Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More,
      3. Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist

      If not — I’m teaching Deep Editing this month. It starts Monday.

      If you have taken those three courses, you’ve met the prerequisites for my Fab 30 class.

      Fab 30: Advanced Deep Editing, A Master Class

      I limit the enrollment to 30. And I deep edit 30 pages for every class member.

      Plus — lectures, assignments, feedback, lots of learning opps!

      Fab 30 started today. I have five openings.

      Now you know about Fab 30!

      Let me know if you are going to RWA National. We’ll get together!

  49. Marie Dry says:

    Great blog Laura. I always enjoy the paragraphs of your work that Margie quotes.
    Shortly after I took the course submissions that sell and making your openings pop my manuscript was accepted. I credit all the courses I took from Margie’s with being published.
    From the passage by Laura Drake I learned that the POV characters old life was not good and that she enjoyed nature because she was denied it while in prison and that she haven’t smiled for a long time. She was trying to distance herself from her past but her conscience wouldn’t let her. She still felt shame.

  50. Excellent post! I have a huge tendency to want to write the whole backstory up front. The shattered glass is a great visual tool. I know I will be using it every time I want to start pontificating on my backstory. 🙂 The excerpts you chose and presented illustrated your points extremely well – thanks so much for sharing your expertise!

    • Hello Lacey —

      Yay! The shattered glass imagery will stay with you, and keep you from falling into the bury-your-reader-in-back-story trap.

      All my courses are loaded with examples, and deep editing analyses. Absolutely the best way to learn!

      I hope you get a chance to click into my web site and read the course descriptions. Lots more learning opportunities in every class!

      Thank you for posting.

  51. Juliette says:

    Thankyou so much! Excellent post!

  52. I am constantly battling the BS bulge. I had too much, now I have too little, Oh to find the happy medium! I will be referring to this post a lot during my editing process. I will have to check out your clinic.

    • Hello Kate –

      Ah. Your alliteration made me grin. I am constantly battling the BS bulge.

      Compelling cadence.

      Three power words: battling, BS, bulge

      And — back loaded with a power word.

      Kudos to you!

      My courses are loaded with dozens and dozens more learning opportunities.

      Thanks for checking out Lawson Writer’s Academy.

  53. So thankful for these examples! BS that hooks. Heck yes!

    This line from Nothing Sweeter drew me in and made me wonder how much time had lapsed since her last smile:

    Her face felt odd, until she realized she was smiling.

    Struck my heart!

    • Melissa —

      Always fabulous to cyber-see you! Someday, I’m going to see you hug-to-hug. 🙂

      Oh — you live near Orlando.

      A critique group is flying me to Jacksonville, to do an Immersion class just for them. It’s Nov. 13 – 17. I’ll visit my sister in Deland before or after Immersion.

      Hmm — Dana offered to host an Immersion class, and he lives somewhere north of Orlando… Let me know if you know of others within driving distance who may be interested in an Immersion class near you.

      I digressed. 🙂

      I want to meet you. And I want to help you get published!

      BTW — Ready for another Fab 30? A Fab 30 class started today.

      Miss you, miss you!

  54. qlbarrett says:

    Nice selection of examples — helps to see how to incorporate in my own work.

    • Hello qlbarrett —

      I love sharing stellar examples. I also love sharing what the author did, or avoided doing, to make them stellar.

      Thank you for posting. You’re entered in the drawing!

  55. Great learning post, with great examples.
    The one thing I always try to keep in mind with backstory is the idea that you want your reader to be so emotionally involved in the story that at the point you finally reveal things they’re *dying* to have the rest of the blanks filled in. They should WANT it, not be skimming to avoid it.
    Great article!!

  56. Mary Tate says:

    Margie, I love what you do to help us become better writers. I’m making my BS list on glass & eliminating my Prologue. thanks!

  57. Margie – as always a great post. I love reading your analyses. Hope to see you sometime this year.🙂 ~~Maureen

  58. Margie, I love the image of the broken slivers from the sheet of glass. It helped me to think of the little pieces that get away and understand that every detail is not needed. I sometimes find myself bringing a bag of bricks to stories and dumping them down. That kills the pace, especially when it is a short story.

    • Hello Barbara McD!
      You’re smart to think about the little pieces of back story glass that you decided you wouldn’t use.
      Bags of bricks? Powerful visual! Your bags of bricks would kill the pace in a novel too!
      Thank you for chiming in.

  59. Fabulous post, Margie! I loved the way you illustrated your points. And your Clinic sounds awesome! : )

    • Cheryl —
      I love fresh writing. And I load every lecture for every class with lots of stellar examples.
      Hope you click over and read the descriptions for Lawson Writer’s Academy courses!

  60. Bronwen Jones says:

    Another fabulously useful post, Margie. Thank you!

    • Hugs to Immersion Grad Bronwen from New Zealand!

      I miss you! Have you planned any trips to America?

      Thanks so much for posting. Always fabulous to see you, even if it’s cyber-seeing you. 😉

  61. Robin Olson says:

    Great post, Margie! I have a huge struggle with BS in my own works. Hope to work out some of the kinks during your Master Immersion class in a few weeks and the FAB30 class I just started with you. Looking forward to drinking more from the fire hose!

  62. Sherry Nelson says:

    As always, thanks for sharing your knowledge, Margie, and for sharing the fabulous works of talented Laura Drake! Can’t wait to absorb some more of your awesomeness in Fab30!!😉

    • Hey Immersion-Grad Sherry!
      Miss you!
      It’s easy to love Laura’s books. Her writing is so strong. So compelling.
      And you know the same deep editing techniques and systems that Laura knows!
      Glad I get to work with you again in Fab 30! Hope I get to see you in another Immersion class next fall!

  63. lynettemburrows says:

    The BS as shards of glass is one sharp analogy. And that makes it a great tool. After Immersion Class last fall my writer’s toolbox bulged so that some of those tools were ignored at the bottom of the box. This reminded me to dig deeper in the toolbox. Thanks, Margie!

  64. abuzzinid says:

    Wonderful post, Margie! THe examples and imagery of the shattered glass are very helpful.

  65. Hello Immersion-Grad Lynette B!
    Ha — Sharp analogy.
    Sharp, like you!
    Loved your bulging toolbox too.
    You better dig deep in your writer’s toolbox. You’ll need to use every tool in Fab 30!

  66. HELLO EVERYONE!

    So fun to cyber-see you all here!

    Random.org selected our winner. If you didn’t win, fuss at random.org, not me!

    THE WINNER IS…………………………….JAMIE BECK!

    Jamie — please email me soon. If it works in your schedule, I’ll enroll you in the online class that starts tomorrow : Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More!

    As always, I appreciate all the WITS bloggers! Thank you for hosting me!

    See you next month. My next WITS blog is February 10th!

  67. marsharwest says:

    I know it’s late, but I had to stop by and say hi, Margie. I’m not responding to your question about back story, though all of your examples are excellent (as always). But I have to highlight one of Laura’s phrases: “She savored the sight of a solitary saguaro standing sentinel…” Isn’t that just gorgeous?!! Super job. I hope to come see you again, Margie in 2015. Too many other trips this year. In the meantime, I pull out your packets.

  68. knightauthor says:

    Reblogged this on writeafterwork and commented:
    This is a great blog. I recommend following it!

  69. Pingback: Write Fab Back Story: Not BS! | Abby J Reed

  70. Pingback: How to delete B.S. (backstory) from your novel | onewildword

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