RC & LR Questions Answered
I promised I’d answer the questions last week, but time got away from me, so here are the answers to the questions posted last Tuesday.
- Regina asked:
- I have a question concerning writing in series format. When you go from book one to book two (and subsequent books), is it difficult to switch your mindset to a different main character? It took me a few pages to get into that mindset in RC – which made me MORE than glad you are still following Julia and William’s love story, as well! Oddly enough, I don’t have as much of a problem switching allegiance in contemporary stories. Very strange….
It wasn’t difficult in going from Ransome’s Honor to Ransome’s Crossing, because the only new viewpoint character I added was Ned—and I’d already started getting to know him and wanting to see things from his perspective the more he became incorporated into the storyline of Ransome’s Honor. With Ransome’s Quest, not only do I have the viewpoints of William, Julia, Charlotte, and Ned, I also needed to include the viewpoint of the pirate Salvador, as he is a central figure to the story. I’ve been wanting to get inside Salvador’s head for years now, so writing scenes from his viewpoint was not difficult.
But there’s another pirate, a certain guy named Shaw, who held me hostage for quite some time—which is why I stalled out for a couple of months around the 10,000-word mark, because it was time to introduce him, but I just wasn’t sure how I wanted to. I actually still have this hanging on my office door, even though the book was turned in almost two weeks ago:
Once I answered that question, I was able to move forward with the story.
It’s different with a continuing-story series than it is a series that are stand-alones. I think it’s a little more difficult to build an emotional bridge to a new viewpoint character in a continuing story—that’s one of the reasons why the “rules” of writing tell us not to introduce a new viewpoint character near the end of a novel because by then, the reader has already made her emotional connections with the viewpoint characters. But in a story that stretches out for more than 300,000 words and into three separate volumes, there are necessarily going to be characters whose viewpoints need to be introduced in Book 2 or Book 3, while others may go away—just like soap operas are constantly introducing new characters, because you can only have a believable amount of conflict for a handful of characters for so long without introducing someone else who has something to win/lose and who needs to be known from the inside-out as he or she introduces all new conflicts for the characters we’ve been with throughout the series.
It’s different with the contemporary novels, because I go into those knowing that each book is only going to focus on the hero and heroine of that particular book (with a few scenes from the grannies’ perspectives here and there in the Matchmakers series). In the scene I’m working on right now for The Art of Romance, I actually found myself starting to write it from Zarah’s viewpoint instead of Caylor’s. I know a lot of authors will have the couple from a previous book continue to be viewpoint characters in the next book, but that feels like a betrayal to me of the girl who waited patiently through the previous book to get her chance to be the princess, to be the one who gets her own spotlight. I do really like having the viewpoint characters from one book come back as recurring secondary characters throughout a series, though—so much that I incorporated that structure in the new historical proposal I just sent off to my agent!
- JJ asked:
- How do you decide the amount of back story to include for a main character? For example, Bobby’s life in California must have given you an interesting challenge and set of choices!
I try to get as much of my characters’ backstories worked out before I sit down and start writing the book. If I’m completely versed on what that character has been through and what they were doing right up until the moment they “walked onto” the page, it’s less of a temptation for me to try to figure out their backstory as I’m writing—and I’ve found myself doing that when I introduce a new character, or when a new aspect of their personal history comes to me as I’m writing. I find that most of that information isn’t necessary. I try to look at it in the light of—if I were sitting down at The Frothy Monkey having a conversation with this person over a cup of coffee and a sandwich, how much would I reveal about myself and my background to this person? How much would I expect that person to reveal to me?
As their creator, I need to know as much as possible about them so I know just how much to reveal—and how it’s going to make them react to situations and interact with people. So before I start writing the book, I do something like this (click image to see the full page in PDF format):
And even with as detailed as that is, some of that backstory changed after I started writing the book and realized certain things weren’t plausible—and some other things changed during the editing process when the copy editor raised some questions as well. Because the characters’ past histories—both from when they were together and after they broke up—were vital to how the actual story played out in Love Remains, it was equally vital that I was well versed in what happened to them during those fourteen years, because that would affect the way they interacted with each other when they came back together.
How much backstory to include is definitely a learning process. My early manuscripts have so many info dumps and backstory segments that it’s embarrassing (which is why only my mother and grandmother have read those). Having completed nine full manuscripts (including the three full mss I wrote before I wrote Stand-In Groom) it comes a little easier to figure out when backstory is necessary and when it’s just me trying to figure out on the page where the character has been and what he was doing before the story started. It’s so easy to spot in others’ writing. It’s a lot harder to spot in our own—but after a while, we do develop a feel for it.