Tag Archives: Books

How to Introduce Backstory Without Boring Readers

I get a lot of questions regarding writing advice. While I’m no expert, I certainly have some opinions that I’m more than happy to share. Recently, I was asked:

“How should I go about adding background information about characters, setting, and whatnot, while making it seamless and natural to the storyline, and engaging for the reader?”

I would advise not to go too crazy in the beginning. In other words, it may be best to keep the backstory to a minimum in the first couple of chapters. Offer as little backstory as necessary, just enough to provide context, but not enough to make it a slog to get through.

Reading an entire novel requires a huge time commitment and a lot of effort, and there are a ton of other forms of entertainment competing for the reader’s precious time. What a lot of readers do is read the first couple of chapters and see if the book is heading in a direction that will entice them to continue reading. If not, they abandon it and pick up something else. So more than any other time, the opening must be awesome, and backstories are generally not awesome, so save it for later, if at all.

buildings

In my book Prodigy, I have an intro, which I was not a fan of, but I just found it to be the best way. I basically set up the entire context of the story in one go. This is the point of an intro so I don’t think the reader minds as much. It’s when you begin your story, introduce your character, and then ‘info dump’ by stating everything about her.

An example of bad background info would be, “Amy sat quietly in class, listening to her teacher drone on. She was reserved ever since the accident last summer, where her and her friends went camping and accidentally killed a guy…” this may be okay, but not in chapter 1.

I consider it bad because upon first mention of Amy, it’s ‘dumping’ the backstory onto the reader. Your reader doesn’t care about Amy yet and at this point has nothing invested in her, so why would they care about her backstory?

If you were to ask me, I’d say have Amy do something interesting, make the reader care about her, and then fill them in on some other details piece by piece – definitely not all at once, and definitely not in the first chapter.

girl reading

You may also do a prologue. In the Art of the Hustle for instance, I have a prologue of the main character when he is rich. He’s being interviewed on some talk show and the interviewer asks him, “How did you become a billionaire, where did it all start?” And then I open with chapter one as this young broke kid finishing high school. I think this was way more compelling because the reader knows he eventually becomes rich, but doesn’t know how. As the story unfolds, the reader is trying to guess how he becomes rich.

Fun fact — the prologue was one of the last things I wrote and I had it as the last chapter of the book. Then I thought, what if I move this piece to the front to let the reader know right off the bat that Trevor is a billionaire and the book will all about how he did it. FYI — I purposely throw in some misdirects to keep the audience guessing.

The Ignorant Character Method

As the story progresses, I try to use dialogue as much as possible to introduce backstory. I call this the ignorant character method whereby one character is ignorant to some crucial piece of information or another character’s backstory, and through a conversation, one character educates the ignorant character as well as the audience.

This seems natural since characters meeting for the first time often don’t know much, if anything, about each other. So naturally they would ask questions that would reveal their backstory. Even then, I wouldn’t get too crazy with it. I may do a bit and then back off out of fear that the reader would get bored.

Batman / Bruce Wayne dead parents

photo credit: Frank Miller

So let’s say you are writing Batman and you open with an epic fight scene (usually a good way to hook the reader). Then you could have Bruce back at the bat cave, looking at a photograph of his dead parents and Alfred come in and say something like, “Today’s the twentieth anniversary of your parents’ death,. You would have made them proud, Bruce…”

In this example, we’ve seamlessly worked it into a piece of dialogue that naturally fits the scene. It seems organic and not shoehorned in.

So to reiterate, my preference is to provide background information sparingly, work it into the story as seamlessly as possible (e.g. through dialogue), and try to avoid ‘info dumping’ at the beginning of the book.

I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, let me know.

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How to Transition Smoothly Between Chapters

How to Transition Smoothly Between Chapters I get a lot of questions regarding writing advice. While I’m no expert, I certainly have some opinions that I’m more than happy to share. Recently, I was asked:

“Are there any ‘good’ ways to have smooth transitions between chapters so that the story flows in an understandable way for the reader?”

First we need to understand that there are two different types of transitions that can occur when a chapter ends:

A.) transitioning from one scene to a completely different scene

B.) transitioning from one scene to a continuation of the same scene, but just in the next chapter

Biker through tunnel

In scenario (a) if there are large gaps of time between the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next, then I usually say something like, “The last 6 months had been rough for Joe. He kept his head down and worked hard…” This is my “establishing shot” so-to-speak. It provides context for the reader and lets them know that the scene has now jumped. The next paragraph after that, I will have Joe doing something and engaging in a new scene.

My book The Art of the Hustle does this quite a bit since I cover 10 years in the book. In one scene, there was so much of a gap (like 4 years), that it was weird to just transition from one chapter to the next so I made a new part. So the book starts out with Part 1 – Chapter 1,2,3,4…. then about halfway, I introduce Part 2 and mention that it has been 4 years later. man walkingIn some cases, it may be more fluid to not have a chapter break, but instead just have a text break. So an example would look like this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

With this technique, you don’t have to be all that smooth since the separator lets the reader know that you’ve transitioned into a different scene. If the gap in time is not that large, say the character is at work in one chapter, and then at home in the next chapter, I may just say “Joe was exhausted. He sat on the couch as he usually did after his shift and watched sports highlights…” hot air balloon at nightScenario (b) — a continuation of the same scene, but just in the next chapter — is much easier. I actually prefer this ‘cliff-hanger’ technique as much as possible to encourage people to continue reading. TV shows often end this way as well. So if a chapter ends like, “Joe turned around and was shocked by who was standing before him.” I’ll end the chapter there so the reader wants to keep reading to find out who was standing behind Joe.

Then, in the next chapter I would begin by saying something like, “Joe couldn’t believe his eyes as he was now staring at a man he long presumed dead…” So basically you just pick up where you left off. In fact, I often write the scene straight through and then later pick some moment which I feel would make a good cliff-hanger and then end my chapter there.

Some writers have an ‘A’ plot and a ‘B’ plot and they stitch it together like a zipper. So in my above example, you would say something like, “Joe turned around and was shocked by who was standing before him.” End chapter. Then the next chapter would be the ‘B’ plot — a completely different scene altogether.

Then once that chapter ends, you pick up where you left off with the ‘A’ plot. I tend not to do this, but it can add more excitement as the reader now has to read an entire chapter just to get back to where they left off in the story.

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Finally, a Prodigy Sequel!

Prodigy - Edward MullenAfter months of planning — plotting out the characters and story arcs — I finally sat down last Monday and began writing the sequel to my futuristic techno-thriller, Prodigy. I’ve been working on it nearly every day and currently have roughly 14,000 words. I wanted to make a post answering some questions that may come up about the book.

Why a sequel?

While I like to leave the endings of my books open to allow for sequels, I never planned on writing one for Prodigy. However, due to the popularity of the book, I have reconsidered my position. The book I planned to write this year will have to wait until next year… no big deal.

The great thing about Alex is that she is young, so there’s so much about the world she has yet to discover. Diving back into this world has been a lot of fun. Once I started, I was super motivated to find out what happens next. I even designed the cover art, which is something I usually save until the end. Needless to say, I am brimming with creative juice on this project.

When’s it coming out?

Since I write full-time, I should be able to finish the book in the next four to six weeks, depending on my schedule. The actual writing of the book doesn’t take too long (if I work on it 70+ hours per week), the most time-consuming part is always the editing. That can take many months. So if I finish on schedule, and the edits go smoothly, the book could be out before the end of the year or early next year. We’ll see how things go and I will continue to post updates on my social media channels.

1069921_10100669193867131_531800510_nWhat’s it about?

I don’t want to give any of the plot away at this time, but I can assure you if you’re a fan of the first book, you’ll like this one. It takes place one year after the last book ends and addresses some of the craziness Alex would expect to face as she transitions back to her life. I’ve added a new cast of characters and brought in some of the old ones as well. So far I’ve tied in many elements that made the first book special so technically you could probably read the sequel without having read the first book.

The main challenge for me was to come up with a story that is equally as epic as the first novel. After what went down with her in the first book, I couldn’t just have some regular Tom Sawyer fence-painting adventure, it needed to be able to compete with the first book.

Writing is like a puzzle to me in that I don’t necessarily see the big picture from the beginning. Even yesterday I was struggling to fit certain pieces together, but I did not get discouraged. I slowly picked away at it and arranged more pieces. Once those pieces fell into place, I had another chuck I could add to the whole. That’s what it’s all about for me, showing up each day and arranging my ideas and words in a way that assembles something greater than the sum of all its parts. I guess what I’m saying is that at this point I have an idea what it’s going to be about, but I’m discovering so much along the way, stuff that would be difficult to sit down at the beginning and plan for. Once I start writing, the story almost takes on a life of its own and could turn out drastically different than what I originally intended.

What about other Prodigy projects?

I am currently working on a Prodigy audio book, as well as a Prodigy graphic novel. The audio book takes a lot of time to do well. It’s currently on hold while I have some people record their voices. Once I get those recordings, I just need to piece it together.

The situation regarding the graphic novel is this: I hired a really talented artist, inker, and colourist to help me bring my vision to life. Eventually, I’d like to direct a big-budget feature, but I have to pay my dues first and gain more of a following. But for now, a graphic novel seems to make sense. Anyways, I’m paying to produce this book out of pocket and it’s not cheap. To tell the full story may end up costing around $100,000. From a business perspective, it would not make much sense spending that kind of money without first testing the demand for the book. So what a lot of people do, and what I am also doing, is creating a first issue in a 22-page comic-book. If people like it and sales permit, I will produce a second one and so one.

A few more things…

As always, thank you for your support. If you haven’t already liked me or subscribed to my various channels, I would appreciate you doing that. It’s a simple thing to do, but cumulatively it can change a person’s life. The more followers and support one receives, the more doors begin to open for them.

Also on that note, 5-star reviews are extremely important – heck I’ll take 4-star reviews! The reviews let others know about the books and encourages more people to check them out. Often times when we like something, we don’t leave a review, but if we hate something or have had a bad experience, we lash out. It feels good, almost like we’re righting a wrong that has been done to us. What can end up happening is those negative reviews give other readers a false perspective of the quality of the book.

Art is subjective – something may be loved by someone and hated by another. So if you like comedy flicks but hate horror, then it doesn’t seem fair to give the horror flick a scathing 1-star review… It may be the greatest horror flick ever made, but it wasn’t made for you, it was made for an audience who likes that sort of thing. Please keep that in mind for reviewing in general, especially my books. Thanks.

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Edward Mullen

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Kindle vs Books: A Response to Sara Barbour

After reading Sara Barbour’s article “Kindle vs. books: The dead trees society” (Los Angeles Times – June 17, 2011), I would disagree with her conclusion (i.e. Kindles aren’t as good as books) because it is unfounded.

The Pros and Cons of Ereaders According to Sara Barbour

The Pro Side

Barbour admits that kindles are lighter, readily available, more convenient, have better searching capabilities, better for the environment, and I’m sure she would even admit that they are more durable, takes up less space, and are better at highlighting and making notes. They even make sharing passages and quotes easier.

The Con Side

Barbour stated that she likes how the pages and spine deteriorate after extensive use, she likes the bragging rights of displaying her books, she likes the ‘lendability’ of physical books, and how books can be autographed by the author (even books that are stolen from the library).

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After both cases were made, it should be apparent that the pro-book side is pretty weak. Barbour even makes a weak analogy stating that it is better to communicate in person than over the computer, so reading a book must be better than ereading. Despite her best efforts to convince her audience, she has not succeeded in winning me over.

The only point that she made that I will address is that ebooks are not as lendable as physical books, and how this could diminish relationships with people. She stated that if it wasn’t for a physical book that her boss lent her, she may not have developed the same kind of relationship with him. Barbour states that, “In eliminating a book’s physical existence, something crucial is lost forever… the book can no longer be scribbled in, hoarded, burned, given or received. We may be able to read it, but we can’t share it with others in the same way, and its ability to connect us to people, places and ideas is that much less powerful.”

Assuming that her claims are true, is the weight of it enough to tip the scales in books’ favour? Should it dissuade someone from getting an ereader? The answer is no, for three reasons:

1.) Ereaders do not in themselves prevent the lending or exchanging of books. Books will still exist for many more years. So if someone wants to lend you a book, they still can.

2.) It is unreasonable to think that ebooks will inhibit a relationship from forming, if anything, it will enable one since the lender knows that the lendee can get their own copy of the ebook very easily.

3.) She is ignoring a very crucial point in lending something to someone, namely, the lend out is only half of the process, you still have to get the thing back from the person – preferably within a reasonable amount of time and in the same condition (or better) than it was before the lend. In my experience, this is not often the case. As such, lending can actually damage a relationship, not to mention damage the physical condition of the book.

In a final desperate plea, she makes one more futile attempt to defend her beloved books. This time she attempts to appeal to our emotion. Her pitiful plea starts off much like her other arguments, stating that “once we all power up our Kindles something will be gone, a kind of language. Books communicate with us as readers — but as important, we communicate with each other through books themselves. When that connection is lost, the experience of reading — and our lives — will be forever altered.”

First, saying that books are a kind of language (and that ebooks are not) is unfounded. She did not offer any argument to support this claim.

Second, she claims that books help us communicate with others. As stated earlier, so do ereaders, perhaps even more so than books. Writing a letter helps us communicate with others too, but emails are clearly superior.

Finally, Barbour states that when ereaders take over (inevitably), our lives will be altered forever, but having a ‘forever altered life’ isn’t inherently bad.

As I have demonstrated, the positives of ereaders far outweigh the negatives. Therefore, Barbour’s conclusion is unfounded.

Article by Edward Mullen

Author of The Art of the Hustle and Destiny and Free Will

Host of The Edward Mullen Podcast

www.EdwardMullen.com

 

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