Weaving in Background Story

By R.C. Matthews, author of Little White Lies

Little White LiesAs a first time author of a romance novel, or any novel for that matter, I bravely dove in and began writing Little White Lies without a care. I had a story to tell — a story that I felt passionately about. So I wrote … and wrote … and wrote. I was nearly halfway done when I finally let a trusted friend read my partial manuscript. She suggested I search the internet for information on the use of adjectives and adverbs in a book – which then led to general research on how to write the perfect romance novel.

Boy – was that ever an eye opener: character development, creating realistic conflict, plotting, weaving in background story and so much more. Most of it seemed like common sense to me. I’d read enough romance novels in my life to know the characters needed to be developed enough so people fell in love with them as they were falling in love with each other. Even the concepts of conflict and plotting weren’t daunting. But weaving in background story? That gave me serious heartburn.

How did one even define what constituted background story? Was it everything leading up to the very moment that the hero and heroine met? A day before? A week? Years? Ugh!

I originally started the story of Little White Lies at the moment when the heroine, Madalyn, rushed back to her apartment after having dumped her fiancé Charles at the altar. It seemed like a logical place to start. My thought process was that the reader should understand what had caused her to dump her fiancé and go on the honeymoon cruise alone. I was afraid that readers might find Madalyn heartless or unlikeable if they didn’t fully understand her motivation. As a result, the original first chapter was dedicated to introducing the heroine in the middle of a heart-to-heart with her sister Jeanine. The second chapter was originally dedicated to introducing the reader to the hero, Royce, who was in the middle of a heated meeting with the board of directors. The reader learned the juicy details around why Royce was forced to go on the cruise alone. The chapter also partially served the purpose of letting the reader know some information about Royce that wasn’t revealed to the heroine until much later in the story – it added intrigue. And the third chapter originally started with Madalyn on an airplane flying to Miami. It included a brief first encounter between Madalyn and Royce at the entrance of the bus that would transfer them to the port.

Was this all background story? I didn’t think so at the time when I started writing the book. I loved Madalyn and Royce. I wanted the readers to love them too. How would that be possible if I didn’t lay the groundwork for who they were and how they each found themselves to be on a cruise – alone? Yet everything I read from the experts – yes, that would be the editors – said I had to start my story in the middle of the action. It was unanimous. The heroine and hero had to meet within the first chapter – or better yet on the first page if I could swing it.

I wanted to bawl my eyes out! Six and a half thousand words had to be deleted … or worked in slowly throughout the book. How was that possible? I was sincerely skeptical. But as far as I could tell, I didn’t really have a choice. If I wanted an editor to fall in love with Madalyn and Royce and allow their story to be told, then it had to be done. So I pulled up my sleeves, highlighted the first two and a half chapters and hit delete.

Weaving the background into the story was not as painful as I expected it to be. Once I had committed to the change and completed the edits, I could see the wisdom of the advice. Who wants to wait until chapter three to finally experience the chemistry between the heroine and hero? No one! That being said, the original chapters are near and dear to my heart and tell the background story in much more depth, giving wonderful insight into the characters thoughts and feelings. So I decided to resurrect those deleted chapters on my author website under “Books – Deleted Chapters” and let the readers decide if they wanted to spend their time reading more background about the hero and heroine. It’s ok … your secret is safe with me … I won’t tell the editors. Enjoy!