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  • Writer's pictureSheri McGuinn


Updated: Sep 16, 2023

The Accident by Gillian Jackson. Backstory. Donald Maass Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. Sheri McGuinn review.

My review posted at Amazon and Goodreads: "The first two chapters drag with introspective backstory that would be better shown in interactions with the characters. However, at the end of chapter two, the accident is described vividly from the perspective of the second victim and the story starts moving along with lots of nice twists."

Well, I won't post a review at Amazon or Goodreads unless I finish a book and give four or five stars. I had decided to put this book down at the end of the second chapter if it didn't get any better - then it did. The accident description is vivid, as experienced in the moment - excellent writing. For writers, that would be a good portion to read. Also, a good exercise would be to revamp the first two chapters using pointers from Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Chapter 23: Low Tension part II: Burdensome Backstory.

When my first novel had gone through a good critique group chapter by chapter (the better part of a year), one member who had missed much of the story did a beta read. She returned it with a copy of Maass' workbook, saying it was good enough to publish but could be even better. I printed out the novel, literally cut every piece of backstory out, and assessed each one. If the reader never needed to have that info, it got tossed. Otherwise, I decided how soon they needed that info and taped that piece onto the manuscript in that section. Then I took the snipped and taped paper manuscript and revised the novel accordingly - and the story moved much better. As authors, we need to know all about our characters, but the reader only needs to know the parts that pertain to the story.

The same goes for research. With historical fiction or other writing requiring voluminous research, there's a temptation to include all that knowledge. While it all helped inform your writing, don't bog down the story with so much detail that you lose the reader. Decide what they need to know and find unobtrusive ways to slide it into the story.


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