Sunday, November 8, 2009

In Search of...

By Lisa Lopez Snyder

I’m always on the lookout for devices that help me move the story forward and create authentic characters. Two presenters at the 2009 SCWW Conference offered good suggestions for doing just that.

Science fiction writer David Weber gave tips on how to provide backstory without the “dreaded dump.” Not being a science fiction fan, I was put off by the fact that Weber used examples from his series (not a good idea for any presenter), but the tips he provided were helpful and could apply to any genre.

Here are the ones I’m already trying to put to use:

• Use dialogue between characters to explore something that happened in the past;
• Create a flashback where your character can describe his or her feelings or experience;
• Use your character’s motivations or weaknesses to explore the past; this might be done using internal thoughts, but take care to not go overboard;
• Find ways that action scenes can be used to insert backstory; and
• Spread the backstory throughout the book rather than all at once.

Karyn Marcus, an editor at Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin, talked about how to spin a draft into gold, but the most interesting part of the discussion was how to find “your voice.” Her advice for voice is something we’ve probably all heard a number of times, but bears repeating: “Do freewrites and let go of your internal editor.” That’s the only way to let yourself explore what your voice is, she says. (I would add: Experiment and mimic various writers. I once mimicked a Joyce Carol Oates short story and really surprised myself.)

Marcus also noted some of her picks among various genres that have unique voices:

• Mystery: Any of the Chief Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny (“She uses a blend of point of view,” says Marcus. “I really feel like I know her characters.”)
• Memoir: Darkness Visible, by William Styron
• Creative Nonfiction: Many of Joan Dideon’s articles (Her pieces “play with perspective,” Marcus says.)
• Fiction: The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

If you found these tips helpful, what are you waiting for?


Columbia Writers Workshop said...

Lisa, I thought of your blog last night as I watched the season finale of "Mad Men." The way the writers handled the need for backstory is a flashback worked into the present story through an action that sparks a memory (like balling up a piece of paper). I realized they have employed this technique, sparingly, throughtout the series. It doesn't interrupt th flow of the story and becomes a familiar enough occurance that your mind quickly understands what is happening.

I am going to rework some of my stuff to get rid of the "dreaded dump." Thanks for the blog.

Columbia Writers Workshop said...