Letting Out the Scenes

I’m reading Promise Me Forever by Lorraine Heath right now. I’m only around page 98, but so far I’m enjoying it.  However, I’m starting to get the feeling Lorraine is letting out the backstory a little faster than I want. That or the central conflict isn’t as strong as I’d like. I haven’t decided which.

Why do I feel that way?

It has to do with where the eventually-to-be-happy couple will end up living. This question is the central conflict of the book.  I think.  Sure, there are questions of whether or not they still love one another, but it’s hard to take them seriously when they clearly still do.

They have both been missing the other since her mother’s remarriage and consequent move separated them, and have both been working toward becoming reunited.  When they think about NOT wanting to be together, it’s because they have both changed in the process of growing up from their early teen to their mid twenties.  It’s all pretty superficial.

Which means if Lorraine tries to make their doubts the central conflict then the book falls into the category of The Big Miss, miss meaning misunderstanding.  I have no more tolerance for that device than other readers I’ve seen complain about it.

Where they should live is turning out to be an insubstantial conflict. Too often I find myself thinking it shouldn’t really matter where they live if they love one another. There is no outside force tearing them apart at the point where the book begins. They could easily marry, then live in either place as they chose. At least, that’s how it appears on page 98. There is some potential for more resistance.

The thing is, with a slight shift in details, whether or not they still love one another could become a powerful central conflict in this book.  She needs merely refrain from telling us everything these two have done in the last ten years to bring each other together again.  Put some real doubt in the readers mind as the whether or not their love continued uninterrupted until the moment they set eyes on one another again.

I think I know why Lorraine didn’t take that slant.

If she had with withheld the details of their years apart the doubt in the reader’s mind over whether or not they still loved each other could have spread into a doubt as to whether or not they should be together.  In a Romance, that kind of doubt can be deadly.

But I think, based on what little I have read so far, the book would have been better if she’d trusted her readers more, and kept more from us.  Then when the hero and heroine face the changes in one another, we can feel their doubt and cheer as they reveal to one another just how far they would go for love.

Do you intentionally withold backstory?  How do you determin which details you will let slip, and when?

12 Comment(s)

  1. In order to hold back backstory or push too much too fast I’d have to plot my book out. And so far I’ve not gotten that hang of those index cards! Good blog.

    Christiana | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  2. Alice,

    Interesting questions for thought. Does the plot drive how backstory is given or does character? And how does an author proceed? I need to drag out my instructional texts and read up!

    Challenging post. Thanks!!

    terri | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  3. I def. try to hold out on the backstory. Just drop some here and there mostly because its what i learned as a newbie. Never ever ever ever put any backstory in the beginning of your book! Then you pick up those published authors and they all do it! lol. Personally, I dont want to read more than a para or two of backstory in a chapter or i’ll get bored.

    Lori | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  4. I have to agree that backstory should be rationed out in drabs and dribbles.
    Too much in one setting, and I feel like I’m reading “that” story instead of the one actually being told. Saying that, though, and doing it are probably two different animals. I think, in spite of knowing I shouldn’t, I at times dish out really big chunks of backstory (or bs). :) Learning to control how and when to drop those bits of information is definitely something I’m still working on. Good blog, Alice. Made me think. :)

    Sasha Allgood | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  5. I agree that too much back story to early or all in one place drives me to skim through sections of a book, which does generally lend itself to a great reading experience. However, I’ve read one than one romance novel where as a reader I’m kept so far in the dark that I feel like I missed something. And I’m not sure which is worse.

    As a writer, I feel finding the balance can be rather challenging at times.

    Great blog Alice!

    Sarah Tormey | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  6. Made me too, think that is. :D I am struggling with that in my current WIP because the backstory has a significant, no crucial effect on the present story. I hate information dumps, they’re boring. But I want to give enough so the reader isn’t scratching her head. It’s hard and something I’m not very good at yet.

    Interesting blog, Alice!

    Laria Lee | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  7. Actually, I’m looking at something pretty subtle here. It goes beyond the balance between confusion and boredom in the reader – always the buggagoo for how backstory is handled. It’s a question of spin. The effect of a few tidbits of information and the placement of them within the story can have a profound effect on what a reader is allowed or encouraged to consider in the way of what can be in the story.

    With this particular book, knowing that the hero had built a house for the heroine, and intended to go retrieve her took away all doubt about how he felt. If I hadn’t known it so early on, if I could have discovered it at the same time the heroine did, I would have felt more sympathy for her insecurities.

    Alice Audrey | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  8. I can see the dilemma, Alice. I think it would have bothered me too. I like to have my emotions pulled and yanked. I was reading Sherry Thomas’ Private Arrangements last week and throughout the entire book I kept wondering if they would really make it to the HEA. She did an awesome job of keeping the reader on the edge. And I think you’re right, if Heath would have kept that information hidden from you for a bit longer, the emotional pull would have been stronger.

    I try to be careful about backstory, depending on the story. With Cherish Me, my first paragraph is a mix of past and present, but it works very well, or so I’ve been told. But with other pieces it doesn’t.


    Renee | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  9. Getting the right mix of backstory and current action in the very beginning of the book has been a problem for me on a number of books. In one, I started the book at the scene that inspired me. Everyone complained it was confusing and unrealistic. I started backing up. Every time someone read it they wanted me to back up some more. People still want me to go further back in the story, but I’m already 100 pages backward in the story line from the point where I wanted to start, and I’m not willing to go any further.

    Alice | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  10. Backstory? Aaargh. LOL.

    Alice, that’s a pretty far rewind for your story. I’m not sure I would have been willing to go so far back from my original start point.
    Are you happy with it as it is now? Or are you tempted to revert back to the original start scene?

    Great blog!

    Anastasia St. James | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  11. There’s no way I’d go back to the original start scene. It really does require the rewind to make it work.

    I think the reason people keep asking me to back up even further is because they are looking for the “normal world” for this character. But this character isn’t normal right from birth, or even before birth. Not for us, and not for her own world. Even her relationship to being abnormal is a little odd. Then she hooks up with the rarest creatures around, each of whom carries a heavy backstory. But the moment her mother throws her out of the house seems to me the best place to start.

    Alice | May 14, 2009 | Reply

  12. I’m not a writer, and love reading historicals but haven’t read this one yet. I know I love my books I read for the stories to build up as they go. I love the ‘wonder’ of them! These hints keep me going and love to figure it out as it goes along. I think if it told it all at one time then didn’t do more for the rest of the story, I don’t know if it would be enough for me, or make me feel it was more of a historical fiction with romance elements rather than a romance historical. That make sense? She has a classic one called PROMISE ME FOREVER that probably hard to find (but I have it :). I need to see how she did this one. I know that the emotions of the character built up as well as forgiveness as the story went on (cuz I cried lots reading this one!). But its been a few years since I read it.

    Caffey | May 16, 2009 | Reply

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