Making and selling a story

Jul 9 2012
Making and selling a story


How is the ‘backstory’ of your Great Australian Novel coming along? The backstory is the concept that perhaps does not immediately come to mind when planning a book, particularly for the inexperienced author. But it was the first issue E. J. McLaughlin raised in her presentation on “What Makes A Good Story?”
The backstory is all about what makes your principal character tick, the background to that person. While the person is fictional, the backstory builds and develops as you get to ‘know’ him or her. “Ninety per cent of it may not appear in the book,” says E. J. “But the stuff that does will come out naturally.”
Getting the backstory right is vital to getting the reader emotionally involved and to begin to ‘know’ that person too. Aspects such as the character’s job, financial status, religion and so on, need to be developed and presented. Those issues must all be apparent when the character and the reader move to the next step – the conflict zone.
Conflict is central to a novel and comes in varying forms. It could be inner conflict (‘Will I, or won’t I?’) or perhaps religious conflict (‘I’m Catholic, she’s Church of England.’). Then there is relationship conflict, emotional conflict, economic conflict, cultural conflict, and many more.
“Every time your character does something, you have to ask why?” says E. J. “There is even the conflict of finding where the character belongs. And hopefully you will reach that beautiful point where you are writing and you set something up and the character says, ‘No, I wouldn’t do that!’”
Then you know you are on to something.
In fact, you’d go along way to find someone who knows more about the art of writing a novel than E. J. McLaughlin, who not only writes horror (logo, pictured), but also runs workshops for writers on constructing and developing books. And by “business” I not only mean the creative process, but the really hard part, selling the thing when it is all done.
How to go about “Marketing Yourself”? E. J. stepped up to the plate and took over the session when the designated presenter failed to show. She took us through the all-important world of blogging. Putting yourself and your stuff out there, even work-shopping material, and commenting on other people’s works. In her case, E. J. writes ‘Dieverse Diegressions’ on Wordpress. “When you leave a comment, leave your blog details,” she says. Developing a following takes time and persistence. “It doesn’t happen over night.” Her like-minded group includes contributors from as far afield as Malaysia and the UK.
And, naturally enough, while much of it will be constructive criticism, not every comment about your work is going to be positive and some can even be quite vicious. The approach? “Never take it personally,” says E. J.