Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tips to Treasure - Writing Tips with Beth Vogt

Beth K. Vogt believes God’s best is often behind the doors marked “Never.” 

After being a nonfiction writer and editor who said she'd never write fiction, Beth's second inspirational contemporary romance novel, Catch a Falling Star, released May 7, 2013 from Howard Books. I have my copy and am turning the last pages as we speak! It's fabulous!

She's the Skills Coach for My Book Therapy and has graciously accepted my invitation to teach us the art of backstory. Her tips will help you understand what to keep and what to put on the chopping block.

Beth went back to our last discussion on backstory, read your questions and tailored her post to meet our needs.

Backstory: I’d Like to Get to Know You—Now Back Off

“The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.”
—Stephen King (1947-), author

Today I’m breaking down how to handle backstory, a crucial skill for every writer to master.

You know, I’ve wanted to be a writer forever. I wrote my first novel when I was in middle school. Private school, actually. I blissfully plagiarized my favorite author at the time, Georgette Heyer, and wrote a Regency romance. I asked my English teacher, Mrs. Gossart, to read it. I used to babysit for her too – my English teacher, not Georgette Heyer.

Ahem. And that, dear readers, is a backstory “dump.” By the time you finished reading that last paragraph – if you didn’t end up skimming it – you probably thought, “Why is she telling us this?” and “Who cares?”

Everything I told you was true – and none of it belongs in this post.

As we develop our imaginary characters, we create their history, which includes things like their:
·      age
·      job
·       “Dark Moment” – what My Book Therapy (MBT)* explains as a specific painful event in their past that influences who they are today
·       “Lie” – a MBT term for the false idea a character has about himself because of their Dark Moment

As writers, we know everything there is to know about our characters. Problems occur when we also think our readers need to know everything about our characters – and to know it all within the first few pages of the story.

Best-selling author Susan May Warren, the founder of the MBT, encourages writers to think of backstory as “breadcrumbs … soft, tasty, small morsels to lure your reader into the story.” The key? Give readers just enough backstory to help them understand our characters’ motivations, actions and decisions in a particular scene.

As you write the rough draft of your novel, you’ll often dump in loads of backstory. Why? Because you’re still discovering and developing your characters. Backstory dumps are okay in rough drafts – even expected – so long as you haul them away when you rewrite.

How do you do that? Here are a few tips from award-winning author Rachel Hauck, who differentiates between backstory and character history:
1.     Layer in enough of the character’s emotions so that readers feel what’s happening in the scene.
2.     As you layer in information, have you taken the reader into a different story, time or place? That’s backstory. Cut it.
3.     Character history lets readers know the why and how of the character in that moment. Use one line to explain why your heroine is desperate to go on a date – one line … for now.
4.     Tease the reader by hinting at issues and problems. Don’t write the solution.

Writing a compelling novel is all about pulling your readers into a story – and then continuing to pull them through the story with each turn of the page. If your story slows down, step back and figure out if a huge load of backstory is blocking the forward motion of your characters – and your readers.

*My Book Therapy is the writing and coaching community founded by best-selling and award-winning author, Susan May Warren.

 Connect with Beth at

Thank you so much, Beth!

Alley Pals, it's your turn to let us know. 

Did this stir more questions? 

Did it answer a few you had from before? 

Have you learned additional tips to drizzle in backstory?

Is there another topic you are struggling with?


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I loved it when you said...Writing a compelling novel is all about pulling your readers into a story – and then continuing to pull them through the story with each turn of the page.

That is such a perfect picture of a well crafted book. My first story is riddled with backstory and I quit revising it because I couldn't figure out how to get it to make sense without a ton of backstory. maybe some day I will get back to it. ;)

Loved this post!!!!

Susan Anne Mason said...

This is truly one of the hardest things to master as a writer. Sometimes I'm better than others. But always I have to go back to the first couple of chapters and CUT, CUT, CUT the unnecessary stuff.

Love the analogy of breadcrumbs. I've also heard of back story being compared to shards of glass that should be sprinkled sparingly through the opening scenes. That was the first time it made sense to me!

Great tips!


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great way to describe the essence of backstory, Beth! Thanks for sharing four criteria to determine if I'm dealing with back story or character history. Great tips!

Beth K. Vogt said...

Hello, Sherrinda, Susan Anne & Jeanne (and anyone else who stops by today!): I'm looking for backstory dumps in my own WIP as I edit book #3. Thinking "breadcrumb" or "whole loaf"? And the idea of shards of glass? That's another way to think of it too -- very vivid, Susan Anne!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Excellent tips!

Ever since attending Angela Hunt and Nancy Rue's workshop, I've followed their backstory rule: no backstory for the first 30-60 pages. Even then, it's to be doled out in small, easily-digested bites.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Great post, Beth! I tend to dump a lot during my rough draft. And as I am writing that as we speak, that was an excellent reminder that the less I overdo now, the less painful cutting will be later! Thanks for the timely advice!

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks so much for being our guest. I sure appreciate your insight and easy to remember examples.

Rachel Hauck said...

Great post, BV!!