Tuesday, November 28, 2006


(Photo by Ibarionex Perello)
One of the major feedback items my editor and agent give me when we're in the revising process is for me to give more backstory.

That is... show some of the past of particular character's actions that have made him/her react in the way they are today. Or expand and flesh out a character so that the current scene you're writing has some context. It can be done with a memory of a past conversation, showing a past event and how the event establishes a pattern of behavior, or taking time to show how a current event or setting came to be. In a way, it's almost like daytime drama, when the writers use flashbacks to show how or why characters are the way they are.

Backstory is important and an area I admit I struggle with in my writing. Growing up in a tv/MTV/microwave age, I tend to want things to happen quick. I want to get straight to the action. Readers, on the other hand, want to take time to understand the story and characters they're investing time to read.

Authors, too, have a backstory. Yesterday, I mentioned that Bebe Moore Campbell was one of the writers from the early 1990s class of black authors, who inspired me and made me believe I could one day write and have a novel published. And I thought it would be fitting to share a little of my backstory with you...

"I’ve always wanted to write novels. But I never felt like I had any role models to look toward who’d say, "Yes. You. Frederick Smith. Black kid. Detroit. You can write and publish a novel.

Yes, there were the proverbial and heavy role models such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin, all of whom were part of my high school English class repertoire. And as well liked, revered, and respected as these legends were for their writing style and subject matter, I always longed for something a little more accessible. Something that spoke to the experiences I saw among my peers and neighbors. Middle class. Post civil rights era. Smart. Not in trouble. With a little more access and privilege than the generation before us. The kind of black and brown folks the media didn’t/don’t often highlight on the six o’clock news..."

For the rest of my backstory, visit M.J. Rose's Backstory site, where you can read the backstories of many authors.

It's nice to see what, who, and how some of your favorite authors were inspired to enter the literary world.


BronzeBuckaroo said...

I truly enjoyed this post. So often, the "backstory" of the writer is just as interesting as those written for his characters.

LadyLee said...

Wonderful post, Fred...

I love authors who can weave a good amount of flashback and backstory into their work...

Makes it more realistic for me. Why? Because we ALL have incredible backstories which have formed us into the people that we are right now.

Again, good post.