I used to think my readers needed to know my story. Then I realized that readers don’t need to know much of anything.
Think about it. When you saw the first Star Wars – the real first Star Wars with Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher – did you need to know who Darth Vader slept with in his youth or what a bad actor he used to be? Did you need to know the scientific structure of The Force? Did you Yoda need to know existed? Of course, not. So why would our readers need to know such details about our characters or stories? They don’t . . . but we do.
My Biggest Ah-Ha! Moment in Writing came when I veered from my hard core pantzer ways and actually plotted out my debut dystopian thriller, FIRELANDS. Before I started writing, I knew every character’s story, from their deepest dreams, darkest secrets, and favorite breakfast cereals to their parents’ premarital affairs. I knew how they would react to tension, challenges, an arrow in the dark, or an unexpected win. I knew how the ruling party came to power, and where they were vulnerable. I even knew what kind of trash my characters would find in the local post-apocalyptic dump, and what they would do with it. Then, I started writing the prose.
Along about Chapter Seven, I noticed something. In my pantzer version, I could never weed out my backstory. In the new plotter version, it was a total non-issue. The difference? I didn’t have to tell myself my own story anymore. Ah-Ha!
Readers don’t want to read facts about characters. They don’t want to read a story. They want to experience a story and the people in it. Knowing my own story and characters allowed me to jump into the experience as a whole and bring my readers with me.
Hemingway said, “You can leave out anything as long as you know what you’re leaving out.” My Ah-Ha! Moment taught me that he was being quite literal. “Can” as in “able.” We must know the details of what we are leaving out, or we won’t be able to leave out details with grace or clarity.
Or as Yoda would say it, “Know your story, do.”
Thank you, Draven, for inviting me to participate in this excellent series.
~ Piper Bayard
Piper Bayard is a recovering attorney, a full-time author, and the managing editor of Social In Worldwide, Inc., a news and events network. He debut dystopian thriller, FIRELANDS, is available from Amazon in Paperback and on Kindle and in e-book at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes for iPad and mobile devices. She is currently working with a “senior mouseketeer” in the intelligence community on a seven-book series of spy thrillers. Her web site is BayardandHolmes.com. She would love to hear from you on FaceBook at “Piper Bayard” or on Twitter at @PiperBayard.