Backstory: Is it necessary? Should it go at the start of the narrative?

January 23, 2020

A novel’s backstory can slow down the pace of the narrative.  When I read a novel I like to get straight to the heart of the story so it immediately grasps my attention.  Often a backstory is not required.  It is useful as it helps authors understand what motivates the characters they create.  But it may not be needed in the text for readers to understand the plot.  Once a backstory has been written it is often deleted during the editing process but if it is needed to flesh out the characters for the reader then the author must decide at what point it should be inserted to have the best effect.

The backstory in my novel, “Magic Bullets”, kicks in at chapter five when the protagonist hears that the first serious love of his life had died and I decided to show what happened during their relationship rather than simply tell another story.  I began the novel with a terrorist attack.  The episode itself does not occur until three quarters of the way through the book as I wanted to grasp reader’s attention from the start.

I differentiated these out of sequence events from the linear narrative by changing the font to italics.  Judging by the reviews most readers liked this approach.  There were a few who did not care fore the book but I do not think that their opinions had much to do with the structure.  They simply did not like the story.  Still you cannot please every one.

Keith Jahans

Available through http://peatmore.com/magicbullets.htm


Writing Courses

July 29, 2019

A friend recently asked me if I could recommend any creative writing courses.  I have never signed up for one myself.  There are so many it is hard to advise anyone where to start.  There are plenty advertised online and several academic courses run by Universities and colleges, one of the most famous being the MA in Creative Writing run by Malcolm Bradbury at the University of East Anglia in the 1970s and attended by both Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro.

I dabbled in writing fiction in my teens and studied various forms of biology at technical colleges and University up until middle age so I felt I knew how to write basic English and had no pressing need to follow a writing course.  But I have attended writing workshops and found them useful in gaining tips has they helped with character development and overcoming writer’s block.  Where they really come into their own is in meeting fellow authors and learning about the challenges they have faced in the course of their writing life.

Writing fiction is a solitary endeavour and to swap experiences with those who follow the same path is invaluable and so I recommend those setting out on a fiction writing career to join a local writers group.

Keith Jahans


Write what you know

July 16, 2019

This is a good maxim for any fiction writer because when one does not know a fact there is a big temptation to make it up.  Even fantasy writers base their stories on some element of knowledge which can be scientific or more commonly mythological.  As a former professional scientist I sometimes place some science into my narratives.  In the early days of my writing, I consciously steered away from this as I did not want the science I published to be confused with my fiction.  I even published my fiction under two pennames to make doubly sure that this confusion did not happen.  But now more than ten years have passed since I retired from my microbiology job so I have started to write under my own name.  This is not only because I want to be recognised by what I have achieved but it allows friends and family to easily find my work.

I am used to research and I know where to go to find the information I want.  The internet is a brilliant tool to enable this.  In my younger days I spent hours in a library to research a topic before embarking on an area of scientific study and even after the study was completed I had to spend more library time in checking that the references I used in my written reports were sound.  Then later on time spent doing this on a PC made the whole process simpler and quicker.  There is now a whole growing branch of study involved with this known as Informatics.

But the best way to seek the knowledge needed for a piece of written work is to utilise your own experience.  This may be by recalling the geography of the area where you were brought up or by remembering the characters you have met.  The latter should be carefully portrayed to avoid offence and the best way to do this is to only select some of their traits, to mix these with those from others and never use the real names of people you know.

Keith Jahans


But if: a rich man meets an invisible man

July 9, 2019

A 9 minute cautionary tale written and read by Keith Jahans

https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/But-If-Audiobook/B0182SIT7C


Medical Thrillers

June 13, 2019

Writing medical or techno thrillers requires a great deal of background knowledge.  But it has not got to be comprehensive as science is evolving constantly.  As soon as a scientific discovery is published it can already be out of date.

There are advances that are fundamental science such as the now established structure of DNA which has lead to the identification of individuals (microbes, plants, animals and humans) through genetic fingerprinting.  A number of crime writers get round having to deal with modern scientific forensic techniques by setting their stories in the past, usually before the 1960s when genetic analysis was not fully developed.  Even today separate forensic laboratories in various countries use different methodologies and these will change over time.

Novelists and short story writers have the perfect get out if the science described in their work is incorrect or outdated in that it really is only fiction.  But what they must ensure if they wish their work to satisfy the expectations of their readers is that it has to be believable.

 

Keith Jahans


Games in Fiction

April 5, 2019

I have played games throughout my life.  I think that this is the same for most people.  I have also followed many sports which is true for many people but not all.  Nowadays there is too much money invested in some sports but those sports where it is invested are very selective.

A great deal of invested money is derived from gambling but those that invest do so to make money and are not interested in sport.  Some sports have become so money orientated that winning is the be all and end all.  I used to follow rugby football but I do not now.  The players are so big and bulky that the small fast players I liked to watch in the 1960s and 1970s are no longer evident.  There seem to be more injuries these days because as they crash into each other more players are hurt.  There was a time when sport was an enjoyable social pastime but sadly this does not seem as apparent as it used to be.  But despite this the elements within it still make good story telling.

Whether the game you indulge in is sedentary (Board games, video and computer games) or physically active (football, athletics etc.) the intrinsic element of competiveness is stimulating.  I included some of these elements in my novel, Gifford’s Games, written under the penname Jack Lindsey and hope that I have produced a narrative that is enjoyable to read.

 

Keith Jahans

The ebook is available at http://amazon.com/dp/B00K2ACUOW and
the paperback via http://peatmore.com/giffordsgames.htm


Putting emotion into Fiction

March 11, 2019

A good way to grab readers’ attention is to tap into their emotions.  One way is to include humour in a narrative, even if you do not set out to write a funny story.  I have written two humorous novels under the penname, Jack Lindsey and hope those that read them found them entertaining.

I have also written two thrillers under the pennames of Luke Johnson and Keith Jahans (my real name).  By using these names I could distinguish between my comic writing and these last two novels.  But there was a great temptation to insert a little humour into even these, which I did sparingly as I think, in the instances where I used it, it served to flesh out some of the characters and to relieve tension to give the reader a chance to draw breath.  This device is used by some truly great writers and arguably the greatest writer of all, Shakespeare, used humour in his tragedies (The grave diggers in Hamlet and the porter in Macbeth).

Making a reader cry is the hardest emotion to evoke.  I have experienced this when watching movies directed by expert storytellers.  I was moved to tears by the impending possible death of Spielberg’s character ET who was not and did not even look human and did not in the end die.  But I have rarely experienced this emotion when reading novels.  But perhaps this is just me.

A few of my readers have contacted me to say that they were upset about the death of two characters in my first novel, Cogrill’s Mill.  But I think this may be because they thought that I had wasted further comic potential of characters they had grown to identify with rather than morning their loss.  This was a surprise in what I had planned to be a comedy and not a tragedy.  But I suppose this only serves to show that a writer can forget that comedy often turns out to be tragic.

Keith Jahans


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