Setting the backstory

Unfortunately I have this talent that causes things I own to mysteriously disappear and never show up again until months or years later if it at all, and it seems one of those the things that has decided to walk is the book I most recently read.

A huge hardcover, colored blue and green – you think would stand out amongst your apartment, but I guess that’s the stereotype with things being lost. They can’t be found. -_-

It makes it a little more difficult to write about a book that’s missing, but luckily what I want to talk about is on the first page, which is easily revealed thanks to sample chapters. Thank you Barnes and Noble!

One of the things I really liked about this book is how quickly it sets the scene, thrusting you immediately into the action while slowing down enough to introduce you to some of the characters and backstory.

Navarr Ardelay’s body was laid to rest in a blazing pyre, as befit a sweela man who owed his allegiance to flame. Zoe stood numbly within the circle of mourners, unable to speak, as she watched her father burn away to ashes. Even as he had wasted away for this past quintile, growing thinner, more frail, uncharacteristically querulous with pain, she hadn’t really believed he would die. (Shinn 1)

Here, I can see a man’s body atop of the pyre, burning and releasing all his ashes to the sky, and in front of him stands his daughter. It’s a very heart-breaking image, especially as she stands with the mourners, reflecting on the last quintile of how she struggled to take care of her father. That’s a lot on the shoulders of a poor simple girl, especially one by herself since there’s no other family revealed to us, and it makes the reader feel sympathetic for a child to do this all on herself.

This is a great demonstration of how to set the scene and bring us into the action while revealing enough back story that we as the readers understand what’s going on.

The idea is to be careful of what image to reveal. What draws us immediately into the action or pulls us in enough that we connect with the character, as we did here in sympathy for Zoe?

I can say for sure that this was a book I was interested in from the beginning  – no slow start here!

Shinn, Sharon. Troubled Waters. New York, NY: Ace Books, 2010. Print.


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