Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A New and Different Writing Challenge

During February, I've been working on the sequel to my paranormal novel "Witch Vampire?". And, I've encountered a new writing challenge--one I've not met before.

As I've said in previous blogs, I am a "pantser," meaning I write by the seat of my pants. I will frequently be inspired to start a story by an idea for a single scene or by a specific mental image. Usually, I will start by trying to translate that scene/image to paper and only then build the story around it. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.

Because I am essentially thinking the story out as I write it, I have a terrible habit of dumping a huge amount of backstory into my first chapters. By backstory, I'm talking about what happens before the story starts; the history of the characters, their backgrounds. And, as any writer worth her salt knows, backstory slows down the action and forward motion. It is also narrative that can bore a reader to tears.

Through a lot of trial and error, I've learned not to fight my own writing style. I allow myself to write the backstory. The exercise helps to warm me up to the novel and to jumpstart me. However, once I'm finished with the book, I go back and cut out the entire backstory. I then feed it into the novel in bits and pieces throughout the whole book--a line here and a sentence there.

Back to my current dilemma. I'm in the beginning chapters of "Witch Vampire 2" (working title). It's going remarkably well--probably because I already know my characters and don't need to work out their goals and motivations. I'm entirely focused on their conflicts. That means I don't have a backstory to write. It's already established in my mind.

Now, here's the rub: In addition to being the second in a series, this book must be able to stand alone. That means that someone picking it up for the first time has to be able to understand and enjoy it.

So, after training myself NOT to put backstory in the early chapters, I now find myself having to give enough backstory to help ground the reader. It's a delicate balance and one I'm not sure I'm handling very well right now.

After several years of writing challenges, it came as a bit of a surprise to have a new one rise up from out of nowhere.

I think I'll spend some time re-reading the series that I like to see how other writers handle this.


Sherrill Quinn said...

If it ain't one thing, it's another. That's why we have to constantly learn and grow. :)

For The Trees said...

Wow. Maya, I never thought about that kind of problem. I think you've got a good handle on it, though. Go for it!

Maya said...

Thanks, Sherrill and Forrest. I appreciate the support.