Tag Archives: Backstory

Perspective, the Two-Edged Sword

By Lillian Csernica on May 30, 2015


Today I read over a story I wrote fifteen years ago.  At the time I thought it was pretty good.  Not Pushcart material, but the basic premise was entertaining.  The antagonist was based on somebody I knew in real life, one of the stranger people I’ve met in my wanderings.  I chose a setting quite familiar to me, a particular type of restaurant where I liked to go often.  I made up a protagonist that seemed to be well-orchestrated in comparison to the antagonist.

The story has been rejected several times.


That’s the question I kept asking myself.  I trimmed the backstory.  I juiced up the fantasy elements.  I refined the protagonist.  Still didn’t help much.

So today, fifteen years later, I read the story and understood it had some good elements, but it was not fully developed.  In fact, it was time to toss out that version and start from scratch.

That hurts.  It’s not fun admitting you created something that isn’t very good.  That’s one edge of the sword called Perspective.

The other edge is sharper, honed on the whetstone of my keyboard and my notebooks.  I’ve done a lot of writing in the fifteen years since I wrote that story.  I’ve sold a novel and quite a few short stories.  I can’t fix what’s wrong with the original version of that particular story, but I can salvage the ideas that made it worth writing and remake them into better, stronger material.

Beginning writers are often reluctant to let go of part or all of something they’ve written.  They’re sometimes afraid that they won’t be able to think up something else.  Once you learn that there will always be more words, you’re free.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, some days the words hide and it feels like squeezing the last drop of blood from solid rock.  Believe me, I’ve had those days and they’re hellish.

There are more words.  More outside, in print and digital forms.  More inside, in the imagination.

If all you can do is take pen in hand and scribble in a cheap composition notebook, whining and crying and complaining about how you can’t get the words right, well guess what?  You’re still writing.  And that’s OK.

Andy Couturier, world class writing instructor, taught me this motto: “Keep the pen moving.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s a pen or a pencil or a crayon or your hands on the keyboard or a tape recorder or Dragonspeak.  It doesn’t matter, as long as you keep the pen moving and keep more words appearing on the page.

Another wise person once said, “You have to write something, before you can write something good.”



Filed under Depression, editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, perspective, Writing

F is for Flashback

by Lillian Csernica on April 6, 2013

F is for Flashback

Dictionary.com says:


  1. A scene in a movie, novel, etc., set in a time earlier than the main story.
  2. A sudden and disturbing vivid memory of an event in the past, typically as the result of psychological trauma or taking LSD.

The purpose of the flashback is to provide the reader with information about that character’s past. In the novel I’m working on right now, the heroine has good reason to keep who and what she is a secret from the hero. He’s no fool, so he figures out a few things about her on his own. My challenge lies in showing the reader the traumatic events that led up to the opening scene of the novel where the heroine runs away from her guards, get lost, and ends up where the hero finds her.

I can’t just plunge my heroine and the reader into a flashback. Or can I? My heroine is suffering from what amounts to PTSD. Instead of just mooning over her tragic memories, she might very well have a flashback as per the #2 definition above, the kind brought on by psychological trauma. The right trigger in the physical or emotional environment could set her off. Dialogue is a great place to plant triggers. The hero asks what he thinks is a reasonable question and suddenly the heroine bursts into tears, curls up into a ball, and won’t say another word.

Flashbacks are tricky. If you’re not careful, they can turn into the worst combinations of the Back Story and the Expository Lump. Use the flashback to advance the story by providing what the reader needs to know in a vivid, dramatic scene. Make sure your transition into the flashback is clear. The use of the # symbol is a common method. Use it again to signal the end of the flashback, then keep on moving forward!


Filed under Blog challenges, Fiction, Writing

B is for Back Story

Cover of "Ship of Dreams (Leisure Histori...

Cover via Amazon

by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2013

B is f or Back Story

The back story is everything that has happened to your main character leading up to the story you want to tell. Many writers believe that the more you know about your main character’s back story, the better you’ll be able to show him or her on the page. Spend all that time figuring out all those dozens of little details and you’ll come up with the one or two that make all the difference in the story.

Not necessary.

All you really need to know about your main character’s past is what affects him or her in the context of the story you’re telling right now.

In my historical romance novel SHIP OF DREAMS, all I had to know about my hero Alexandre de Marchant was that he blamed himself for the destruction of the French naval vessel he served aboard because he didn’t kill their incompetent commander when he had the chance. If he’d done so, the much more qualified officers would have defeated their English adversaries and Alexandre’s shipmates would still be alive. His guilt and the pathological hatred of all English sailors that arose from it made writing his actions and reactions much easier.

Speed counts for a lot in today’s marketplace. Yes, you need those telling details to bring your story to life, but if you get bogged down in those details and don’t finish your story, it may never get the chance to live.


Filed under fantasy, Fiction, Writing