I've been struggling with writing my historical. It's been an exceedingly frusterating expereince, one I'm not used to. At first I thought it was because I was so rusty. My focus for the last couple of months has been on a contemporary urban fantasy written in first person. Now I'm asking my writer self to jump into an 18th century historical written in third person. Maybe I'm asking too much of myself. But that's not it.
It was the beginning.
When I do critiques or judge contests, the single biggest problem I find with manuscripts is the beginning. Finding the right spot to start a story is difficult. Too often (myself included in this case) use it as an info dump. Oh, I always start with an action or in the middle of a conversation, but I discovered by the next page I'd started pumping in the backstory. And it wasn't necessary. Info dumps create a barrier between the reader and the hero/heroine. For instance, in the story I'm working on, the heroine's son has been kidnapped and being held for a ransom too high for her to pay. The most important thing is to get in her head and show the anguish she is going through. I want my reader to empathize with the horror she is experiencing. At that point, it isn't necessary to tell how she got there. In fact, if I write it the way it should be written, I should be able to SHOW how she got in the situation without boring my reader.
Writers love backstory and it hurts like hell to slice it away, but too much info slows down the story. Take a look at your first 5-10 pages. How much do we know about the hero/heroine? If we know the name of the heroine's third grade teacher's pet turtle, that's probably too much, unless of course said turtle is 100 feet tall and threatening to eat the heroine. The backstory will find its way in but it isn't necessary at the very beginning. The beginning is a chance for the reader to be pulled in, to hold on while our characters go through whatever nightmare or soul changing experience they are forced through. Once the reader is captured, the rest of the story can be filtered in.
In Other News....
Robert Redford is shooting Lions for Lambs in my town this week, about 3 blocks from my kids' school. No, haven't spotted any celebrities, but I probably wouldn't know one if I saw one. There are so many studio trucks and trailers, its amazing. They are filming on the campus of the Claremont Colleges so they haven't spilled out too much into the rest of the town. I did hear, however, the crew took over the parking for our metrolink train (the commuter train which takes suburbians into L.A.).