Writer's moments

The Backstory Dilemma…

…is my topic for today. I intended to tell you about how hard it is to fit in what I know about my characters without info dumping all over the page. Whining was imminent because I am stuck, stuck, stuck in revisions on The Music Is You simply because I want to tell my readers way too much.  I’m cutting furiously and wondering how in holy hell I’m going to have a story when I’m done. Yes, yes, yes—I know—only last week, I was in celebration mode because I finished Like Fine Wine, so whining seems rather selfish at this point. But that one’s done. It’s out with the beta readers, and now I have to get to work on this one.

It’s harder, mostly because this is the book of my heart. The one that my agent loved enough to sign me. The one I wrote and sent out to the world when I was mourning my friend Suzanne and wondering if I could ever possibly be a real writer. It’s been rejected by more publishers than I can count, but almost always with this caveat,  “Great story, wonderful writing, too much flashback.”  or “Characters are too old and there’s too much flashback.”  Editors love my writing—I am a great writer, but I am the queen of TMI.

So I sent the manuscript to my favorite book doctor, Lani Diane Rich at StoryWonk for a critique and advice. She took it apart and with unbearable honesty (for which I am eternally greateful), laid out the facts. Too much back story—cut, cut, cut. And God bless her, she even apologized because she was telling me to cut some terrific stuff. But it had to be done. So far, I’ve cut close to 10,000 words, rewritten the first scenes, and added more panache to my main character. I’m not changing their ages. Love is ageless, right?

Well, as I said, I’d intended to talk about how to get rid of the backstory and stay in the here and now. But then, I listened to Lani and Alastair’s StoryWonk Sunday last night before Downton Abbey, and realized I don’t have to write this after all. Instead, I’m sending you to them.

Listen and learn.


  • Kari Hayes

    Excellent, excellent. I have that same issue, and must keep reminding myself that the backstory is the bottom of the iceberg, what the reader sees on the page is the top. But I like Robena’s metaphor better 😉

    • Nan

      Kari, I think we all that problem. Lani uses the iceberg analogy a lot–it’s a valid one. Roben’s is just more poetic! Thanks for stopping by!!

  • Robena Grant

    I have to go in to an old and much loved manuscript and cut, cut, cut. I know there’s a good story, but it’s like an overgrown garden full of brambles. Somewhere there be roses. ; 0

    I’ve kept everything from Lani’s prior workshops so will be applying those ideas. Diligently. Her classes are awesome.

    • Nan

      Love that, Roben–“Somewhere there be roses…” I need to remember that as I’m chopping away at the brambles in MUSIC. Thank you!!

      Yes, Lani’s workshops are amazing! My Sunday’s not complete until I’ve heard StoryWonk Sunday. She’s the best!

    • Nan

      I’m so there with you, Liz…but you know what, she’s right. MUSIC is already better and staying in the present works. The podcast is charming as they all are, with the bonus that it’s highly informative. A win all around.