Back Stories

17 Apr


A few weeks ago I read a post that really caught my imagination. It was Matt Wright’s post on Tolkien’s published appendices. The question that came to mind is how can the volumes of back story that we create for each character, plot, location, and obstacle be used other than to help write the story? A sizable portion of Tolkien’s world and back stories were published after his main books and were gobbled up enthusiastically by his fans. As Matt points out, the e-book industry is perfect for this type of follow-up publication and many of the author’s I follow have used it to good effect.

I got my start writing by creating back stories for my friend’s RPG characters. So, generating back story is something that I spend a fair amount of time thinking about. I found that creating a character study using free-writing is not only is fun, but it produces characters with interesting and unforeseen motivations, likes and dislikes. Back story written as short-shorts or even a short story can be a nice change of pace from your main WIP. Also, it can help a writer through a plot or character block.

So, this ‘extra’ writing  brings up a few questions, “Can back story be used to promote a book that has yet to be published? Can it be used to help create an audience for an upcoming book release? Can it be used for story promotion without damaging the story to come? If written with the intent to promote a longer upcoming piece, what is the best vehicle to introduce it to potential new readers? Would posting it on a blog provide as much exposure as e-publication? If the back story is a short-short, does it even make sense to try to e-publish it?

Honestly I’m split on this topic. Whereas, introducing readers to a short piece to lure them in may sound like a good idea, it would have to be written so that the writer did not give away too much of the character for the main story to follow. Also, short pieces are harder to write from a world-building/explanation stand point. The writer has less room for exposition.

The flip side is that a short piece might be enough candy to lure the reader into a relationship with your characters. The writer needs to be aware that new fans won’t wait very long for the longer piece to be released. So, unless the goal is to release numerous shorts before the main book is released, timing of the back story release would be critical.

What do you think? Do you have back stories you could use to promote your WIP? Would you ever publish back story to promote your WIP or do you think it best to wait and see if the WIP is well received?


Posted by on April 17, 2014 in Thoughts on Writing


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8 responses to “Back Stories

  1. SJ Main

    April 17, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Interesting. I know an author who is releasing a novella that is basically a backstory. She has waited until after book 2 of her 5 book series to do it though. I’m not sure a standalone backstory released first off would attract many fans so what she is doing makes more sense to me.

    • Dennis Langley

      April 18, 2014 at 8:58 am

      Her timing makes a great deal of sense. I would be interested to hear how it is received.

  2. Matthew Wright

    April 18, 2014 at 12:32 am

    Thank you for the shout-out…I hope I don’t appear too self-serving by clicking ‘like’! 🙂

    I think you’re right. Extra, posted on line to promote, can be useful. But like you, I’m not entirely clear exactly how yet. On the one hand, for instance, back story seems a sitter to be posted on a website geared to promote a book with downloadable ‘extras’. But as you say, timing is definitely an issue. So is revealing too much. And there’s also the ‘rule of free’. The ground-rules here are shifting, continuously, with the changing ebb and flow of the way that social media works. But the notion that everything on the web is expected to be free seems to run consistently.

    My suspicion is that readers would grab all the free extras and not generate too many click-throughs to the paid content. What’s the answer? I have no idea.

    • Dennis Langley

      April 18, 2014 at 9:26 am

      It’s not too self-serving. 🙂

      I thought it an interesting topic for discussion. As trends continue to mutate, It will be fascinating to watch. I see more and more authors actively publishing novella and short story length ‘add-ons’, both through traditional and e-versions.

  3. shelleyhazen83

    April 18, 2014 at 8:19 am

    I just read a book called “Your First 1000 Copies” by Tim Grahl. One of his main tenants is to be over-generous, meaning provide quality content to potential readers, even when you think it feels like too much. Generosity, he says, pays off in the end. I plan to use my back story and other background info to entice readers to future WIPs. I plan to do this via a newsletter, (sadly I haven’t gotten any subscribers yet), with the goal of getting people interested in the story behind the story, so they want to read the actual story. So in short, yes, I think it’s a great idea.

    • Dennis Langley

      April 18, 2014 at 9:28 am

      Thanks for your input Shelley. I have not read Mr. Grahl’s book, but it appears maybe I should. Your newsletter is an interesting take on it. May I ask why you chose that delivery vehicle?

      • shelleyhazen83

        April 18, 2014 at 9:34 am

        Following Grahl’s advice. An email list allows potential readers to give you permission to contact them with updates about your writing or the date your book will be published. Plus, you have a direct contact with them, right to their inbox. People engage with their email more than with a Tweet, for example, which is why that form is more effective than social media. It’s also more effective because you get to keep the list of people who’ve subscribed to your newsletter. You can’t contact your Twitter followers personally or keep them when that platform becomes obsolete.

      • Dennis Langley

        April 18, 2014 at 10:58 am

        Very interesting! The trick then is to increase your subscriber base. Good luck to you and please let me know how it goes.


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