This week Elaine Roberts talks about where she went wrong with her work in progress.
This week I have sent my manuscript off to the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) New Writers Scheme (NWS), to be critiqued. It is the first time I haven’t sent a completed manuscript. I have only sent the first seven chapters, which is just under 39,000 words. I thought I would send it now so I can go to the RNA Conference with a clear conscience and allow myself to enjoy the talks and workshops that are laid on. It is an exhausting but fun time with lots of writerly talk with writerly people. When the talks are finished, a copious amount of wine is drunk, although not by me of course (just in case my husband is reading this). If you can only do one event each year, this is it.
Anyway, I’ve digressed. My current work in progress is a saga. Part of my preparation involved creating a large family tree to help me remember who is related to whom and their ages. All this preparation will hopefully see me over three novels. Although they will not be a series, some of the characters will be carried forward as the generations grow.
It was only when I got to chapter five that I realised I didn’t know enough about my main character’s backstory. As you can imagine, I was livid with myself and it brought my writing to a standstill. For anyone who is reading this but isn’t a budding writer, I’ll explain what the backstory is, without trying to bore you too much.
The backstory of a character is basically what makes them tick and why they react to things the way they do. So it is all about action and reaction. An example of this is when a child has been spoilt. How they react when they are told no is different to how someone reacts who is used to hearing the word no. This is a very basic example, but one I hope paints the picture. When I think of backstory, I relate it to an iceberg. The large amount of unseen ice is below sea level, that is the bit the readers do not read, but it forms your character’s underlining traits. The tip of the iceberg, the part that is above sea level, is what the readers will read and, hopefully, enjoy.
I had to brainstorm further into my characters backgrounds and delve into their childhoods and their standing within the family. Lots of scribbling took place and then I returned to chapter one and filled in the gaps, right through to chapter seven.
Now, I just wait and worry. I wait for the readers report to come back from the RNA NWS and worry in case they find big plot holes in my story. The good news is that if they do, it will be in the report and I can think about how to improve my work.