It’s been a few days since I sent Tony Owens his editorial letter. Among the things that he’s doing really well and I don’t want to lose is the build up of pace to the final reveal – it’s steady and you keep reading and suddenly you realise the truth and it’s a breath-catching moment.
One of the things the letter dealt with an issue I noted in several of the stories that were submitted – a need for a deeper understanding of the backstory.
It’s a pretty standard thing to do as a beginning author – it’s something I used to do all the time. Still do, if I’m being lazy. I’ll make sure the story is pacey, that the characters are cool, that something interesting happens. But having a really deep knowledge of what’s going on behind the scenes is one of the factors that takes a good story to a great.
For example, it’s easy to get caught up in atmosphere when you’re writing a creepy story. And the writing will be beautiful, and the overall idea will be scary. But if you haven’t nailed the backstory you will show what is going on, but you won’t show why and it will lack fear factor. That was a problem one of the stories I rejected had.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll write all the backstory you work out into the story. Particularly in a story as short as the In fabula-divinos stories, there’s very little room to do that.
But the better you know your world, the better a decision you’ll make about the story. It could be that you should tell it from the point of view of a different character, in order to show as much as possible with as little words as possible. It could be that you need to set a scene in a different location, or to write a different scene than the one you had planned.
For your next story take time to make some notes about the world the story is set in and what’s going on behind the scenes of the action in the story. You might not have to write any of this in the story, but it will colour the story almost subconsciously. If you’re planning the story, do it before writing. If you’re writing more organically, do it once the story is done, before you edit.
Then see your story start to fly.