Creating Suspense Through Backstory

Creating Suspense Through Backstory

By Gail Gaymer Martin

Backstory fulfills a multitude of purposes from creating characterization, goals, motivation and conflicts. But today, think of backstory as a way to build suspense in novels from thrillers to romance. Suspense results from elements in your story that captures reader’s curiosity and pulls them forward searching for the answers. Will Sam find out about Andrea’s secret life? Will Andrea understand Sam’s fear of commitment before it’s too late? Will Jeb kiss Kate? Will Bret reveal the truth when Julia begs for answers?

Putting backstory too early in a novel is not only boring, it destroys its power to surprise readers. Learning to balance the revelation of backstory is a technique writers benefit in learning. Learn when to reveal backstory, how to reveal it and when to hold it back. Give serious thought to backstory before you supply information to the reader. Is it necessary to share this information now? Will it make a difference? Is it important if the reader doesn’t fully understand the reason the character refuses to do something or acts uncomfortable about a situation? Does your decision allow the reader to seek out an answer instead of being hand fed it? Will the reader enjoy playing detective and using their own brain to discover or even speculate what might be wrong? Will it mean more and surprise readers later when they know the character more fully?

Withholding backstory until it’s absolutely necessary falls into three categories: Keeping information from the reader, keeping information from a character or all of them or keeping information from one another while the reader knows.

As the author, you know the completed backstory. You can weigh the importance of sharing this information and the benefits of withholding it. Readers do not need nor want to know details too early. They prefer to figure things out for themselves. I have received thank you letters from readers for allowing them the enjoyment of using their own methods of searching for answers and discovering the truth, and they indicated being disappointed in authors who explain everything to them. So give that thought as you share information.

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Checking that your Challenge Entry was Received

Have you ever submitted your entry for the FaithWriters Writing Challenge, then come Thursday, not been able to find it in the current entries? Maybe you forgot to check for the confirmation page, or there was some sort of glitch that stopped it from going through. It can be frustrating, as there is nothing that can be done after the fact to have your entry in for that topic.

Well, now there is a way to be 100% certain your entry was received safe and sound. Once you have submitted your entry, go to the Challenge entry list link (just bookmark this link, or find it on the submission page for the Challenge OR the thanks for your submission page) – the titles of each entry submitted are listed there. If you don’t see your entry under the appropriate level, feel free to resubmit. If you do, you have nothing to worry about!

Thanks, Mike, for making this wonderful feature available. And the rest of you – get busy on your challenge entries for this week – your opportunity to Write a Travelogue! (Check out Jan Ackerson’s lesson on this genre here)

Gotta love that peace of mind!

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Don’t Let Your Big “But” Get in the Way

Don’t Let Your Big “But” Get in the Way

By Lynda Lee Schab

What circumstances (and/or excuses) have kept you from fulfilling your writing goals thus far?

In other words, what big BUT is in your way?

We all have them, don’t we? Excuses why we haven’t had time to finish that novel or submit that article. Reasons why we’re not yet published or haven’t fulfilled the dream that’s burning a hole in our hearts.

While not having an ounce of talent may quality as an excuse, for those of us who know we have the gift of writing, is there really any excuse to keep us from setting out to do what we know God has called us to?

Have you finaled in writing contests? Have you had work published in the past? Have you had reputable industry professionals who were impressed with your writing or who offered encouragement and support? Have people (other than your mother, spouse, or best friend) raved about your “way with words” or your knack for story-telling?

Then guess what? You have no excuse. Get rid of that big BUT.

Whether your “buts” are about finding time to write, landing an agent, getting published, submitting that article, joining a critique group, or entering that contest, one thing is for sure: making excuses is a guarantee for failure. Ok, so just getting up and doing it may not bring you the results you expect or hope for. It may not make you an overnight success. But it will bring you one step closer to realizing your dream. The dream you know that you know that you know God has put in your heart. And it will also give you the satisfaction of knowing you gave it your best instead of hid behind a curtain of pathetic excuses.

As George Washington Carver said, “Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”

So are you going to be included in that ninety-nine percent? Or will you be a part of that one percent that stops making excuses and just does it?

Which big but is standing in your way?


lyndaschabLYNDA LEE SCHAB got her writing start in greeting cards and has many articles and stories published in magazines and online publications. She is also a regular book reviewer for, but Lynda’s passion has always been fiction. Her novels, MIND OVER MADI and MADILY IN LOVE, are available in print and on Kindle. Lynda lives in Michigan with her two children. Learn more about Lynda on her website,

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Turn It Off

It was a busy time for me, and distractions were everywhere. Email lists I had no time to read. One hundred blogs I was trying to keep up on. Facebook. The messy house around me. Television in the background. My kids’ chattering. Snoring. Sound effects from Wizards 101. The cat attacking my leg – or sleeping on my head.

Where was that cone of silence when I needed it?

I had a big project to finish.  And I was behind. If I could just remove the distractions—turn off the noise around me – I would be able to catch up, and perhaps even surpass my goal. I knew it.

So, as much as I could, I did just that. I turned off the email lists and straightened (or ignored :::blush::: ) the messy house. I put in my ear buds. I shut down my internet. I did everything I could possibly do to turn off the noise around me.

But still, I was distracted. By what, you ask?

By the negative voices in my head.

Satan was whispering in my ear. He reminded me of the many rejections I’d gotten for my writing. Of how poor my descriptions were. Of how inaccurate my scenes were since I hadn’t researched the time period enough. How the bits I were writing were not crucial to the plot. About how far behind I was already. That even if I DID finish, the work would still be plenty, and I’d never find the time to get it done.

That I’d never be happy with what I had. So why not just quit?

And then I remembered that our God is not a god of discouragement or negative talk. That nothing great was ever accomplished that was simple. That God impressed on me to do this task.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9 NIV

A couple years ago, I came across a quote by Helen Keller that blew me away and encouraged me greatly. I hope it does the same for you.

Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will have a joy in overcoming obstacles—a delight in climbing rugged paths which you would perhaps never know if you did not sometimes slip backward, if the road were always smooth and pleasant. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost. —Helen Keller

Heavenly Father, help me to turn off ALL the distractions that are keeping me from doing what You want me to—the outward ones when possible, and always the voice of the enemy, which, with Your help, is completely in my control to turn off. Let me persevere and finish strong. In Jesus’ name. Amen



November Starts Tomorrow – REALLY!

(So if you haven’t gotten your Nonfiction Page Turner entry in – hurry! Today IS the deadline!)

And there is A LOT going on here at FaithWriters (and elsewhere, for that matter!) in this eleventh month of the calendar year.

Of course, there’s the FaithWriters Writing Challenge (the genre quarter – this week’s topic challenges us to write contemporary fiction – who knows what styles of writing we’ll be challenged to try in coming weeks?).  Be sure to give a topic a try, read  and comment on last week’s entries, and/or check out the latest winners.

Plus, the two remaining opportunities to win Xulon Bestseller Packages wrap up at the end of this month. Be sure to check out the information at the appropriate page to find out the many ways you can enter the raffle to win a package – or send the beginning of a novel-length Christian fiction work with a biblical message to a second contest and get the chance to win a second package from Xulon. Deadline for both of these  contests is November 30, 2014. Check out the details – and get busy!

But FaithWriters isn’t the only place to celebrate writing in November. One of the biggest writing challenges/marathons I have ever heard of also takes place then. If you want to get a novel written, November may just be the month for you, thanks to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – when a gigantic community of writers of all genres are challenged to complete 50,000 words in one month. There are several FaithWriters members who participate – why don’t you be one of them?

And there’s ANOTHER month-long challenge in November – one that I just discovered myself a bit over a year ago – and this one is geared toward children’s picture book writers and/or illustrators. If that is more up your alley, why don’t you join ME as I and hundreds of others strive to get our picture book creativity going with Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). The pre-PiBo festivities have already begun at host and picture book author Tara Lazar’s blog – with inspirational posts by picture book authors, illustrators, editors, and other Kidlit professionals – and will continue throughout the month. There will be prizes too! The challenge? Come up with 30 picture book ideas in the 30 days that make up November. Check here for details – and here to register (you can follow along whether you are registered or not, but can’t win prizes if you aren’t registered).

 What are YOUR November Writing Plans?

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Nonfiction Page Turner Deadline This Week

If you still haven’t submitted your entry to the 2014 Nonfiction Page Turner Contest, I must congratulate you – on your procrastination. You are part of a proud, elite group of writers: those who squeeze their challenge entries in on Thursday mornings minutes before (or even a minute or two after!) 11am, who work best under pressure, who wait until the very last minute.

But there’s a fine line between delay and late – and that line is approaching fast. If your entry is not submitted by this coming Friday, October 31, it will be too late – and the next opportunity for this prize for a nonfiction work won’t be until 2016.

The eighth annual Page Turner writing contest (sponsored by, Finesse Writing and Editing Service, and Breath of Fresh Air Press) is into the home stretch, and this year, it’s for non-fiction. All you need to do is write the first chapter, together with a basic book proposal/overview of the planned book, and then submit it. Definitely doable in three days for a procrastinator like you, right?

If you are a member of the FaithWriters Platinum 500 , you are invited to enter this very special contest created just for you. If you are not yet a Platinum member (click here to upgrade), this is the perfect reason to upgrade your membership.

Why enter, you ask? The prizes are quite impressive.

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A Novel’s First Sentences

A Novel’s First Sentences

By Megan DiMaria

I’ll say it up front: I’m a real sucker for a good first sentence in a novel. I may read on if the sentence is ho-hum, but I’ll read more eagerly if the first sentence pulls me into the story.

Like many readers I’ll peruse the books on a shelf and pick up novels by authors I’ve previously enjoyed or select a book whose title or cover catches my eye. I’ll flip it over and read the back cover copy and then turn to the first page. Reading the first lines of a novel is like going out on a blind date: I don’t know what to expect, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised, swept off my feet, and fall madly in love.

Some people contend that the most difficult sentences to write in a novel are the first ones. After all, they are the hook that draws people in. My favorite first sentences are the ones that make me ask, “what??” —the lines that peak my curiosity and leave me panting for more. Please don’t give me a weather report or tell me what the character looks like. I want to read a provocative statement or a question that has me hungering for an answer.

Of course there are some first lines from bestselling authors that are so boring I want to toss the book across the room, but then because it was written by a bestselling author, I read on. After all, their books sell, and they could probably post their grocery list on the first page and people would read on. However, for the rest of us authors, we need to give our readers some lines that will keep them engaged.

Here are a few of my favorite first lines:

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A Stretchy Writing Challenge Quarter – Genre-ally Speaking :)

Have you checked out the topics for the FaithWriters’ Writing Challenge the past few weeks? We are revisiting a theme from way back in 2007 – one that was extremely popular and a serious growth experience for many who participated back then (including yours truly!).

Welcome to the genre quarter, 2014!

We are in week three of the quarter – and the current challenge is to write for the science fiction and/or fantasy genre. Guidelines are just like any other time – a minimum of 150 words and a maximum of 750, with a Christian worldview (See complete guidelines here), written new for the Writing Challenge, and only one entry per person. The current topic closes this coming Thursday at 11am ET, when a NEW genre will be announced. Don’t be afraid to try something new – it is the best way to stretch your writing muscles and possibly even find a new favorite genre to write in.

Go here to enter your story – and be sure to check out the entries from the previous week (and give out some coveted gold comment boxes). Right now, the entries live and available for comment are in the humor genre.

Also, to help out, FaithWriters regular and teacher extraordinaire Jan Ackerson will be posting a writing lesson on the FaithWriters message boards on the genre of the week on Saturday. Check out her lesson for fantasy here, and one for science fiction here. Watch for future lessons to correspond to future genres each Saturday.

Gold and Platinum members can enter the challenge every week if they want – silver members can try it out a total of four times. (Click here to upgrade)

Are you ready to try something new? Rise to the challenge!

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Be Ready to Rumble, Write, and Win

Get Ready to Rumble, Write and Win
By Jacqueline B. Broy

Stepping into the unknown is exciting and scary. Everyone’s idea of risk is different but what can prevent us from crossing the line into the new is a very old and cunning adversary. It’s fear.

My latest struggle with fear was writing this article. Some months back I had bought several writers’ resource guides to select the potential magazines for my very first article. I printed out the writing guidelines to be sure I met the requirements. Paper, pencil, red pen, and computer were waiting for my brilliance to spill out. But time moved on and my writing book had only the beginnings of several somethings. They were like balls of clay that never shaped into a solid piece. Anxiety began to slowly creep around me, leaving the door open to indecision. I had no clear idea what to write.

Vicious thoughts started floating in my mind. “Who’d want to read your stuff anyway?” “Your writing isn’t good enough.” “You’re out of your league.” I was beginning to question this new direction from God. I was paralyzed by this assault. If I truly wanted the future God has for me, I would have to fight to win in the present.

One powerful weapon is the Word of God. Ephesians 6:17 calls God’s Word the sword of the Spirit, an offensive weapon to be used by believers. In Jeremiah 23:29, God reminds us that His word is like fire and a hammer, able to break rock into pieces. Jesus has shown us how to use the Word against Satan. Luke 4:1-14 records Jesus going through a wilderness trial for forty days. Three times Satan tries to trip up Jesus, and every time He comes back with the Word of God. He was led into the wilderness by the Spirit, triumphed over the enemy with the Word, and came out in the fullness of power of the Spirit.

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Win a Xulon Bestseller Package – Deadline Approaching

The deadline to enter either of two contests to win a Xulon Bestseller Package is sneaking up on us – are you preparing to enter either of them? Check out the details here!

If you have, or are working on, a fiction manuscript with a strong biblical message and are a Platinum member of FaithWriters (click here to upgrade), you can enter it in FaithWriters’ contest. Just submit the first chapter, a basic synopsis of the planned book, and a clear explanation of the lesson/teaching. But don’t delay – the deadline is less than two months away!

After the November 31, 2014 deadline, each entry will be judged, and one winner will receive a Xulon Press Bestseller Package (retail value of over $4,000) and free premium publicity and marketing of the completed book on all FaithWriters’ sites. Check for more detailed guidelines, and directions for entering, here.

The second way to win this Christian self-publishing package is open to ALL FaithWriters members – platinum, gold, and silver. And you don’t need a manuscript! FaithWriters is holding an old-fashioned raffle with a high-tech touch. Do any of dozens of activities on and about the FaithWriters site and get entries into this raffle. Are you a gold member? That’s five points. You can get another ten points each week you enter the Writing Challenge, and four each day you give a critique in the critique circle. Points are also available for subscribing to the FaithWriters newsletter, entering the Page Turner nonfiction contest, and more. Once the raffle closes on November 31, a winner will be drawn randomly from all entries. Check out details on this page (scroll to the bottom).

So, get busy – you only have a month and a half! Are you entering?

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