B is for Backstory

What exactly is backstory? How does the dictionary define it?

A narrative providing a history or background context, especially for a character or situation in a literary work, film, or dramatic series.

The experiences of a character or the circumstances of an event that occur before the action or narrative.

As an author it is something I'm very aware of. My first novel, Resolutions, had an event, which had happened prior to the story started, and was the reason there was a story at all.

However, I didn't just jump in and tell the reader what had happened twelve months before. This came out slowly, in the early chapters, and mainly through the dialogue of some characters e.g.

Mrs. Williams’ eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. "Well, well, so you’ve finally returned. I never thought you'd dare to show your face again here, especially at this time of year.”

Hopefully at this point the reader will want to continue reading, wondering 'What has Carly done?'

If I'd let 'the cat out of the bag' at this point, there would be little point in reading on! Also if all the backstory is given early on, as an 'info dump', this can be boring and tedious to read.

In the next chapter we have a clue as to what has happened from another character, whom Carly visits:

“Don’t expect too much from him. Seeing you will come as quite a shock. He’s spent the last twelve months working hard to put you out of his mind and out of his life. He may not want you back. I don’t think you’ll find that Yeardon and New Yeardon are the same places you used to know.”

Have I got you intrigued? I hope so! Would you like to know what Carly has done that has caused so much anguish? Let Steve, her ex- fiancé, tell you:

“New Year’s Eve would have been our first wedding anniversary. It seemed a good time to try to say sorry.” She moved towards him. “I’m really sorry for what I did.”
Steve’s arms widened to grip the sides of the car as he stared down at the engine. “Sorry? Sorry for leaving me standing at the altar like an idiot? Sorry for disappearing without a word? What exactly are you sorry for?”

It's far better to keep the reader guessing and wanting to learn more.

Later on we learn that the hero, Ben, also has a secret in his past. However if you want to know what that is, you'll have to read the book!

A is for Adjectives

I haven't blogged for some time and need to get back into the routine. I gave it some thought about how to go about this.  I decided to concentrate on 'writing' topics for a while, going through the alphabet, with guests giving their views and ideas.
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This first post is A is for adjectives and I'm delighted to have Paula Martin on board to talk about this. As well as being an excellent author, Paula is particularly keen on the correct use grammar and punctuation. 

When I was at school (a long time ago!), my English teachers insisted we used lots of adjectives to make our writing more descriptive. In contrast, writers are warned against the overuse of adjectives.

Various reasons are given for this: too many adjectives give your novel a ‘purple prose’ tint, or clutter the text with unnecessary modifiers, or give the impression that the writer cannot quite find the right word.

Mark Twain said: "As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out."
The question is – which adjectives should you strike out?

First there are the redundant adjectives – the tiny kitten (aren’t all kittens tiny?), the large mountain (ever seen a small mountain?), the narrow alley (an alley IS a narrow passage), the cold snow (if snow wasn’t cold, it would be water!). Omit the adjective if the noun is self-explanatory.

Secondly, there are the adjectives which, with their nouns, can be replaced with a much more descriptive word e.g. ‘a downpour flooded the streets’ instead of ‘heavy rain flooded the streets’, or ‘the witch cackled’ instead of ‘the witch gave an evil, sharp laugh’.

There are also some adjectives which have become almost meaningless and should be avoided (except in dialogue), including wonderful, lovely, pretty, stupid, foolish, pleasant, comely, horrid – and the obvious one, nice.

However, a story without any adjectives could end up as very clinical and dry. As with most things, moderation is the key. We are not advised to avoid adjectives altogether, but to avoid overusing them.

Eliminating all adjectives would be as big a mistake as overusing them. Adjectives can clarify meaning and add colour to our writing, and can be used to convey the precise shade of meaning we want to achieve. We should save them for the moments when we really need them and then use them selectively – and sparsely. Too often we feel the need to beef up our nouns in an effort to get our point across.

Compare: The dark, dreary house had an empty, suspicious feel to it, the thick air stale and sour with undefined, scary kitchen odors. Are all these adjectives necessary?
A tighter, more dramatic description would be: The house had an empty feeling to it, the air stale with undefined kitchen odors.

Use adjectives only to highlight something the noun can’t highlight. We’ve already seen that the ‘narrow alley’ has a redundant adjective, but what about the ‘dark alley’ or the ‘filthy alley’? Not all alleys are dark or filthy so in these examples, the adjectives are adding something that is not already shown by the noun. This is the main reason for using an adjective.

And now I’m off to take my own advice, and look through my ms. for redundant adjectives!

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Final port of call - Quebec

Sailing down the St Lawrence seaway is a treat in itself.
The trees were beginning to dress themselves in their autumn colours. Quebec is a beautiful city, especially the old town and its always a pleasure to visit there.  You could almost believe you were in Paris.

We spent a wonderful day roaming around this area, its lovely boutique shops and fabulous coffee bars and restaurants.
The first day we were there (we stayed over night), it was bitter cold, so our first thought was to find a shop selling hats and gloves!

It is such a gaily coloured area, my photos can only give you a taste of it.

As we wondered around the old squares and cobbled streets, Quebec was busy preparing itself for its Halloween celebrations.

We caught the local bus to the Montmorency Falls.
These falls are higher that Niagara but only narrow.  It was a beautiful spot with wonderful colours again. However all too soon it was time to make the journey home.

We are sailing Halifax part 2

We really enjoyed our visit to Halifax. It is a lovely city and harbour.

The city was founded in 1749 when the British built Fort St George on top of the hill.

The citadel is now a 'living history' museum with volunteer re-en actors giving visitors a real sense of what is what like to live there.   They fire the noon day cannon still.  It goes with quite a bang. I forgot this was going to happen and we jumped out of our skins!

The soldier in the dormitory was a young university student vounteer.

After visiting the citadel we strolled around the beautiful public gardens before finishing our trip with an ice cream sat on the harbour front.

Next and final port of call - Quebec.

We are Sailing - Sydney and Halifax Nova Scotia

There was so much to see, particularly in Halifax, Nova Scotia, (and I took so many photographs) that I'v decided to split this blog into two. I'll concentrate on Sydney, Cape Breton and the Maud Lewis exhibition in Halifax's Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

The first thing you see on disembarking is the worlds's largest violin.

Sydney Cape Breton, is a small community, proud of its Celtic heritage. We could have gone on a number of nature trails, but decided to have a more restful day and explore the town. However I soon found a house to interest me and explore.
Cossit House Museum was the home of loyalist and rabble rouser Rev Ranna Cossit, his wife Thankful and their ten children. The house was built in 1787 and is one of the oldest surviving houses. Costumed guides give a fascinating insight into life as it would have been.

We left Sydney to sail onto Halifax. One of the main places I'd hoped to visit was the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, to see the Maud Lewis exhibition. If you've never heard of her, and I must admit I hadn't until recently, she is well worth your interest. You can find out about her life here.

 A few of my photos from the gallery

Maud's small home
Maud at work.

Next - Halifax.

We Are Sailing - Fourth Port of Call - Bar Harbour Maine

I loved Bar Harbour, I wished we could have spent more time there. It's a very pretty town, with a lovely harbour, set amidst a stunning National Park.
To be honest I had heard of the town but knew nothing about it. We did a little research before leaving home, but nothing prepared us for how attractive this area is.
Overlooking the bay.

Before we left home we had booked ourselves on a tour of the Acadia National Park, on Olies Trollies tours.
Our tour trolley
The view from Cadillac Mountain
If you ever go here we highly recommend these tours.

We were on a twenty seven mile tour of the park, including a drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Eastern United States coastline.

Unfortunately the day was drizzly and misty when we first arrived. The view from the top of Cadillac Mountain was disappointing to say the least. These things can't be helped! The driver suggested not stopping but spending longer at other view points. The whole of the bus agreed.

Thunder Hole
The coastline is absolutely stunning.
It reminded me of Cornwall but with beautiful pink granite stone.
We also stopped at the lovely Jordan Pond Area, a glacier formed tarn, where there are walks, restaurants and a gift shop.
Jordan Pond.
Next Ports of Call - Sydney Cape Breton, and Halifax Nova Scotia.

We are sailing. Third port of call - Portland and Kennebunkport

Longfellow's home
Our cruise continues. We should have called at Newport, Rhode Island. Although conditions at sea were calm, the island was experiencing quite a storm. As we had to tender there it was decided (by the Captain) that we could not stop. So onto Portland and Kennebunkport.
We didn't stay long in Portland, Maine, but we visited  the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Our main objective was to go to Kennebunkport.

I'd heard about this place and really wanted to see it. It's the quintessential New England small town - quite beautiful.

It was a lovely day and we strolled around admiring the sights and eating ice-cream.
The Bush estate
One of the sight to see here (with some difficulty!) is the Bush family estate. It is on a small peninsula with houses for thefamily and the security agents. What a place to live!

Typical house
Kennebunkport was lovely. A marina, lovely homes, quaint shops, beautiful flower displays, and full of tourists!

Just like us!

As with many of the towns preparation for Halloween was well underway.


B is for Backstory

What exactly is backstory? How does the dictionary define it? A narrative providing a history or background context, especially for a c...