Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Writing advice I actually like …

Found in a post titled: Five Pieces of Writing Advice You Should Ignore.

What I like:

The author of the post provides examples. When he says you can ignore not to open with the weather, he references BLEAK HOUSE and points out that there’s a difference between flat descriptions of the weather and describing weather in a way that adds dimension and tone to the opening.

And so on.

This is my favorite bit:

Rule to Ignore: No backstory in the first 50 pages.

Response: If backstory is defined as a flashback segment, then this advice has merit. Readers will wait a long time for backstory information if something compelling is happening in front of them. But if you stop the forward momentum of your opening with a longish flashback, you’ve dropped the narrative ball.

However, when backstory refers to bits of a character’s history, then this advice is unsound. Backstory bits are actually essential for bonding us with a character. If we don’t know anything about the characters in conflict, we are less involved in their trouble. (Read Koontz and King, who weave backstory masterfully into their opening pages.)

I’ve given writing students a simple guideline: three sentences of backstory in the first ten pages. You may use them together or space them apart. Then three paragraphs of backstory in the next ten pages, together or apart.

You see: A very brief, clear description of what doesn’t work versus what does, plus specific examples given (Koontz and King), plus an interestingly specific piece of advice.

THE WHITE ROAD OF THE MOON has backstory worked into the opening. I’m curious about whether it’s got more than three sentences in ten pages. Probably. I think it works, but it’s kind of a special case because I was determined to use that particular opening sentence and that required starting and then adding backstory. But I may open one of my other books and just look. How much backstory in the first ten pages, and the next ten. It’ll be interesting to see.

The post is also a bit meta, considering it ends with a rule to ignore: Don’t Ever Follow Any Writing Advice.

That did make me laugh. I’m a big proponent of this related rule: Don’t Follow Writing Advice That Doesn’t Work For You. But even I wouldn’t go as far as Don’t Follow Any Writing Advice Ever.

Anyway, good post, not too long, click through if you’re interested.

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