Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Backstory: How Much? How Little?

One of the ways we make a character come alive and seem real is to provide that character with a backstory—a history or background. What we don’t want to do is drop too much of the backstory on the reader at any given time and most particularly at the beginning. Too much too soon bores the reader and trivializes the story. Dropping tantalizing bits and pieces whets the appetite of the reader.

One thing to recognize is that you don’t have to be writing mystery fiction for a bit of mystery to be worked into the story. You do want to weave backstory in a subtle manner so you keep your reader’s interest and attention. Backstory also provides motivation as well as sympathy for the character.

It’s crucial for the writer to really know the character completely. For this reason, I always write a character bible which includes all the key characters’ descriptions and details of their lives. Only significant parts of this information will appear in the actual story.

For example, in my latest novel, DEATH PROMISE, we learn the real reason why Michelle Hallam refuses to commit to Daniel Reiner and why Daniel decided to become a psychiatrist. Their personalities have much to do with their unique backgrounds.

Backstory is only one aspect of character development, but it can be used successfully to connect the reader with the character on an emotional level. I’ll end with the following:

According to Writers Digest, “including too much of it (backstory) too soon can halt your story’s momentum. A good storyteller has no trouble thinking up rich histories for his or her characters. But a good novelist holds these details back, revealing them only at the time that best serves the story.”

Your opinion and comments most welcome!


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Interview with Mystery Writer


My interview is with Fred Shackelford a Virginia attorney who lives on farmland that his great-great-grandfather purchased in 1817. Before writing his d├ębut novel The Ticket, he published Judges Say the Darndest Things, a collection of humorous excerpts from legal opinions. Fred is a graduate of the University of Virginia and its Law School. The Ticket was a finalist for The Clue Awards from Chanticleer Book Reviews, a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Awards, and a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.



Question: What is the title and genre of your novel?  Why did you select them?

Answer: The Ticket is primarily a mystery novel, but it has elements of the suspense and thriller genres. The plot involves a search for a missing lottery jackpot ticket, so the title is self-explanatory. I like to read mysteries that contain action and suspense, so I wrote the book in a style that would please readers who share my interests.


Question:   What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer: I read a news article about a winning lottery ticket that remained unclaimed after several months. I began to wonder why someone would risk missing the deadline for cashing in a winning ticket. Over time, one possible scenario evolved in my mind, and I decided to flesh it out in a novel.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Answer:  The hero, Lee Barnett, is a former police detective who was forced to retire after he was injured during an off-duty confrontation with an armed burglar. The burglar’s gunfire injured Lee and killed his wife. To distract himself during the months of loneliness that ensued, Lee begins to collect items that are auctioned on eBay. One of his purchases is a used camera, and he discovers a surprising clue on its memory card. Armed with the clue, he attempts to track down the missing lottery ticket before it expires. Along the way, he must contend with a corrupt and dangerous gambler who is also hunting for the ticket.       

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Answer:  Before venturing into fiction writing, I published a book of humorous excerpts from legal cases. I work at a legal research firm, and I and my colleagues collected these funny tidbits over the years. When I had amassed enough of them, I published the collection in a book entitled Judges Say the Darndest Things.      

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  I’m doing some background work as I prepare to write a screenplay based on my novel. Many readers have told me that they would love to see The Ticket’s plot unfold on the big screen.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I enjoyed writing short stories during my school years, and more recently it’s been fun to write elaborate Christmas letters and birthday poems for my children each year. As I have read novels over the years, I often wondered if I could write one myself. Finally deciding to give it a try, I began writing The Ticket.     

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer: I can sum it up in two words: patience and perseverance. Be aware that it’s a long process, and you must be prepared for a lot of editing after you write the last page. I had no idea how much editing and polishing I needed to do when I finished the first draft of my manuscript. Initially it was 117,000 words long, but after extensive editing I had whittled it down to 93,000 words. If you’re still in school, enroll in writing courses. When you’re writing a novel, try to work on a more or less regular schedule, have discipline, and understand that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Of course, you should also read and learn from the work of other novelists.

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer: The Ticket is on sale at most online sellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and others that are listed on my website: www.fredshackelford.com. The Ticket can also be ordered through many independent bookstores, and some indie stores stock it on their shelves.


Fred is available to answer questions. Your comments are welcome here!