I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

A last post on writing before a month long break...

Sorry for the lackluster post rate lately. I'm posting more frequently at my dragon blog these days as I work to promote Dragonforge. The prospects of more heavy posting in August look dim. I've got to turn in the third Bitterwood book, Dragonseed, at the end of August. I'm still working on the second draft, and am probably going to wind up with only three weeks to finish the final draft. That means I'll need to be reading aloud and polishing 10 chapters each week. Eek! I'm not complaining. Getting that immersed in a writing project is actually pretty close to my dream life. But, it definitely means a fall off in blogging until the book is turned in.

So, since it may be a month before I get back to this blog with a substantial post, I figured I'd toss out a bit of writing advice that crystalized for me just this week. Many writers struggle with backstories for their characters. How to get all the information in about what has gone before is a challenge, and leads to the dreaded writing technique known as infodumping. So, here's a different way of thinking about backstory that may be of use: Turn your backstory into setting details.

For instance, if you were to visit my house, a halfway careful observer would figure out a lot of my personal backstory just by looking at my walls. It would probably be fairly simple to deduce that I'm a writer, given that I have covers of my books framed and displayed in my living room, as well as a shelf there with a copy of every anthology I've ever been published in, as well as all three of my novels, including ARCs. Oh, also some posters from bookstore signings. You would also find a photo of Laura prominently displayed in my living room; since there's no woman living with me, you might guess it's a girlfriend, but if you dug around a little you'd find the obituary I keep in the white table in the living room. There's also picture frame on my bookshelf that opens into a small photo album; it would be simple to deduce what had happened to Laura by following the sequence of photo there.

When you are crafting scenes, remember that characters aren't just sitting around in their houses or cars or workplaces... they are sitting in the middle of their backstories. If you carefully focus the camera of your prose upon the right details of the setting, you will reveal things about the character's past. A key example of this from Dragonforge would be the second chapter, when Graxen and the Matriarch are speaking in the thread room. There are tapestries on the walls that tell the entire racial history of the sky-dragons. I don't describe the history page after page, but I do describe the tapestries enough to bring it to life in the reader's mind, and the presence of the tapestries serves at key moments in the conversations as jumping off points for talking about backstory without it seeming infodumpy. It's natural that they should briefly discuss Vendevorex, for instance, because there's a blackboard where the Matriarch updates her genealogical notes and Vendevorex's name is written on the board in bold letters and surrounded by question marks. The matriarch doesn't know his origins, and it's her job to know everyone's origins... and we can learn this because of the setting detail that invites this explanation. And, we also get a very brief summary of the conclusion of Vendevorex's storyline from the first novel. Again, it doesn't feel like a naked infodump because it flows from the setting.

So tie your setting and backstory together whenever possible. It makes both richer.

More posts on writing will be coming next month!

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