Okay, I totally think that it does rule…as in cats rule and dogs drool…but what I’m actually getting at are the writing rules for fiction and how those for romantic fiction can differ.
I have been struggling with something called backstory, those pieces of information about a character or a place that the writer simply tells the reader. For example:
She came from money. Not the good kind, earned over years of toil and honest days of work, but the dripping crimson coin called blood money. Her family was mafia. And as such, they expected Celia to fall in line and marry a good old mafia boy. One who hunted people instead of wild game.
(That was written on the spot, so forgive me if it stinks) But you get the picture, right?
In my last writer’s group it was pointed out to me that I’m still bogging down my chapters with backstory. Also, according to “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass, a writer should avoid backstory for at least the first 3 chapters.
Screeeech! That’s the sound of my romantic feet skidding to a stubborn stop. After reading that part, I ran to my stash of favorite re-reads and feverishly went over the first several pages of each. Approximately 3 out of 5 had some sort of backstory in the first chapter, which is supposed to be a fiction no-no. Hmmm…what to do?
The points made by my co-writers in the critique group were dead-on about my overuse of backstory in chapter one. It bogged down the action! Yet, at the same time, it’s a tool I’ve read over and over in romance books that obviously passed through and got published.
So here’s where I am now. I’ve been reading over the master’s work (she’ll go unnamed, but any romance die-hard should know to whom I’m referring ) and I think I’m coming to a happy medium.
Multiple paragraphs of backstory, especially in the the first few chapters, can lose the reader. However, snippets of backstory interspersed in a way that tells you more about the character or setting can be employed, but carefully so. (I also looked over some Clive Cussler etc. and backstory makes an appearance again, but not in a way that slows the current action)
To each his own, and if you write fiction, I say tread lightly, and do as the professionals say. It seems to be a recurring theme that backstory in the first chapter is a RED FLAG to agents or editors. I, however, plan to dip my toe lightly in the back story pool, but only when absolutely necessary and only if it makes something in the present story more vivid or likable.
It’s amazing how much I learn on a weekly basis. I want to go back and red-ink my last manuscript, but I’ll wait until I know more about its success or failure. Keep your fingers crossed.
In the meantime, I’m working on some new projects, and I’m viewing backstory as smallpox. I don’t want the whole thing, maybe just a little bit of an inoculation.
With love and murder,