Notes from Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman: Backstory Techniques

Posted: March 28, 2015 in graffiti living
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Notes from Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman.

Backstory techniques:
Solidly establish the ongoing present action [image in head – chaos at train station today, unmanned although staffed, ie. They didn’t want your money any more they just wanted to control the crowds, no-one seemed to know what was going on] before bringing in any substantial backstory [CATRD eg. = life story of Anna and Japanese man, is he a hitman, has he kidnapped ‘his daughter’]. Solidly engage the reader with what is at stake for the character in the present context [note – just recalled intuition that tells me there’s something about this in Gardner’s ‘Becoming a Novelist’, an example text of people travelling together] so that we are then interested enough to learn about their past. [persecuted soul]

Backstory is kept brief compared to the present action. It’s generally best to bring in past (flashback or memory when it has a direct bearing on whats happening in the present. ie. After character acts weird / messes up, dramatise past which caused the present slip, now in the context of intense action.

Or you can bring character to a moment of decision, slip back into past, and then use this past event as the influencing or triggering factor for how the character chooses to act. Backstory becomes not only the foundation for novel and character enrichment but also motivating spur to a present action. Mysteries are nothing if not about unravelling backstory. Some blockbusters (like most films) have little or no backstory, but what is given up by way of character deepening is regained by the novels breakneck pace. With one or two key well dramatised scenes you can represent a whole past life and at same time keep your action moving. [image in head – Anna crying on Japanese man’s shoulder, in a motel room, about a lost baby, but not explaining why she broke down in tears, it just happens when he hits a nerve with something he says]

[I have to interject at this point – this is spooky., I’m typing up notes from MANY years ago, and taking note of the projects that I had thoughts about then and scribbled notes on in the margins, only to realise that I did it in exactly the same that I do now and was doing as I wrote up the notes, but now all these years later with a “different” mind on different projects.]


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