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#TBT Post: When is backstory just backstory?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Throwback Thursday

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Throwback Thursday Post of the Week:
When is back story just back story?

Originally posted: May 27, 2006

A couple of months ago, I was so excited about being finished with my thesis novel, the contemporary romance Happy Endings, Inc. so that I could concentrate on writing the first part of my historical trilogy, Ransome’s Honor. I have several people who’ve been reading RH as I’ve written it—each bugging me for another installment. But even though I’ve had some extra time on my hands, I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and continue writing “Part One”—what I thought was going to be the first half of the novel focusing on Julia and William as children and what shaped them to be the adults we meet in 1814 (where I originally started writing the story).

And I finally admitted: Even I’m not that interested in delving into all of the minutia of the first trip to Jamaica, what happened on the ship, or what happened once they arrived in Jamaica. I’ve worked out in synopsis format what happens, because that’s important to who they are as adults twenty years later. But trying to weave ten-year-old Julia’s and fifteen-year-old William’s stories together in 1795 is making it harder and harder for me to figure out how to have Julia feel animosity toward him in 1814.

Because I’m a “seat of the pants” writer, one of the hardest things for me is to have people reading my writing as I’m doing it, especially right in the beginning, because I’m never sure until I’m about halfway through exactly where I’m going. But I’ve come to the decision that I need to scrap Chapters 2 through 4 (well, the three pages I’ve written of Chapter 4) of “Part One,” and just use the first chapter as a prologue. Then, with everything I have learned about Julia and William from this back story/character exercise, I will revise the existing nine chapters of the part starting in 1814 and just move forward from there.

I can tell this is the right thing to do; I’m excited about getting started and have been thinking about the story all day as I’ve run errands around town, and that’s something I haven’t done in a very long time (the thinking about the story, not the running errands)!

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May 8, 2014:
Wow, that was SO long ago! In May 2006, I’d been working on the Ransome idea for about a year. When I started it in May 2005—as something I dashed off to submit for workshop critiques at the June 2005 Residency (one week of on-campus workshops and seminars at the beginning of each term) of my grad program—I was planning on trying to write it as a category-length romance and pitching it to Love Inspired and/or HeartSong Presents. Obviously, a year later, I’d realized that the story had so much more going on in it than would fit in 50–75,000 words and knew it would be a trilogy . . . yet at this point, I hadn’t even finished the first draft of it.

In thinking that I might try writing some Ransome novellas this year, I’ve recently gone back and revisited those chapters focusing on William and Julia as children—and I’m so happy I came to this realization early on and scrapped plans to spend half of the first book with them during that time. I decided that I didn’t even want to make a prequel novella out of it!

I mentioned, back in 2006, that I’d use the first chapter as the prologue in RH. Well . . . that book does have a prologue, but it isn’t the backstory I wrote about in this post. You see, it wasn’t until almost two years after this, when Harvest House was looking at the Ransome series to consider publishing it, without a prologue in RH, that I was asked to add one—one that would help the book start with Julia in a happier frame of mind than she is when we meet her in her first scene in chapter one (when she’s homesick for Jamaica). I thought I’d just pull up this “childhood” chapter and slap it on and be done with it. But when I went back and re-read it, it didn’t work for me then, either. That’s when I decided to write about when Julia and her mother visited England during the short-lived Peace of Amiens in 1802—and, wham!, I discovered the NEW backstory between Julia and William at ages seventeen and twenty-two was much more interesting and added a whole new layer to their relationship and the conflict between them, and that’s why we now have the existing prologue to the story.

But if you’re really curious, you can read the first part of that original, unused, backstory here.

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