Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Yipes! 46 pages of backstory?! Well, kind of.

If a bestselling author can get away with 46 pages of backstory, why can’t I? Not that I'd want to.

Beginnings of stories (even newspaper articles) always seem to be the hardest part for me – where to begin, how to begin, how much to include. I lost count of how many times I reworked the beginning to Storm Surge. Originally, the opening began before the murder, and my protagonist meets the victim before her death. (I had my protagonist arrive late to a family funeral, with the old church door stuck because of air-conditioning suction, then having the suction abruptly cut off, the door flinging open with a loud crash, breaking a religious statue, and my main character making her grand entrance barely able to stand on two feet. It was beautiful. And I cut it, way before I shopped my novel out to Peak City Publishing.)

Recently, I picked up a mystery by a bestselling author, and from the description on the book, I expected the book to be centered around an adult protagonist. Well, for the first 46 pages, that protagonist is a pre-teen girl. Granted, she suffers a traumatic and dramatic incident that shapes her life, but 46 pages? I almost put the book down and walked away (until, exasperated, I flipped ahead and realized I’d only a dozen pages to go before the novel jumped ahead to her adulthood). I mean, I’d signed up to read about one thing and found myself getting a very different other thing for those first 46 pages. Hmpf. But then the rest of the novel jumped around to various segments of her adult life as she grew older, finally settling on “present time” on page 130 of a 456-pager: an interesting structure of a novel that spans a couple dozen years, so I don’t suppose the 46-pages of girlhood is most accurately described backstory. But embarking on reading the novel, it sure felt like it.

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