This post appeared originally on the blog of Jason Jack Miller, author of The Devil and Preston Black, Hellbender, and The Revelations of Preston Black. Check out his site.
The Ghost of Backstory in DEATH PERCEPTION
Backstory is everything that happened to the protagonist before the story begins. In The Anatomy of Story, John Truby calls this the “ghost.” The ghost is usually some negative event from the past that still haunts the protagonist in the present. This past trauma is the source of the hero’s current psychological and moral weakness. It’s his internal opponent, what Truby describes as the “great fear that is holding him back from action.”
In DEATH PERCEPTION, my just-released supernatural thriller, young protagonist Kennet Singleton’s backstory ghost is his father’s drunken violence, resulting in his father’s death and the loss of his mother’s eye. Lack of a good role model has crippled Kennet from striking out on his own; at 19, he still lives with his invalid mother in a personal care home and holds only a part-time job at a local funeral home.
However, Kennet’s natural hypersensitivity toward his father’s moods and abusive behavior birthed a psychic gift that blooms when an old prophetess lays her hands on him. Later he discovers that he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.
When he begins believing in himself and using his gift to avenge the spirits of those who have been murdered (ghosts of a different sort), Kennet finds the courage to stand up for himself and forge his way toward independence.
Good stories dramatize the process of a flawed character overcoming past wounds on the path to wholeness. Even in a tale of horror and supernatural crime, Kennet’s “ghosts” find justice—and peace.
DEATH PERCEPTION is available in trade paperback, Kindle (.mobi) and Nook (.epub) at https://leeallenhoward.com/death-perception/.
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A month ago I posted the first scene of my work in progress, a dark psychological thriller I’ve titled THE BEDWETTER. It’s about an abused young man with chronic secondary nocturnal enuresis who, as pressures mount, embarks on a killing spree using the tools of his dark fantasies.
I’ve started to keep track of my writing progress and wanted to update you in a more comprehensive way than my daily Facebook status updates and tweets.
Idea Development in THE BEDWETTER
I originally received inspiration during some time off I took at the end of last year. I got the idea about a young man being punished in a horrifying way for wetting the bed. I used those two weeks to formulate a big-picture plan for the story, filling out plot and character questionnaires, just getting to know the story.
From that point on, I began to hear this character’s voice and was often interrupted by creative “downloads” of information that I would later work into scenes and dialogue.
Plotting of THE BEDWETTER in Truby’s Blockbuster 6
I spent all of January and the first half of February doing more detailed plotting using John Truby’s screenplay development software, Blockbuster 6. The application leaves a lot to be desired, but it enabled me to draft a list of scenes and arrange them in the right order. Then, I fleshed out each scene, answering questions such as:
- My challenge in writing this scene
- My strategy for writing this scene
- The scene goal (POV character’s desire)
- The character’s plan to achieve the goal
- The opponent in the scene
- The scene’s conflict
- Any twist revealed
- The scene’s moral argument (value A vs. value B)
Blockbuster 6 also enables you to include the structures of up the three genres in your story (for example, horror, thriller, and myth); track six storylines; and monitor key words, symbols, and tag lines.
I completed a scene form for 59 scenes in the book, and included in each scene some details about what needs to happen and the information I must reveal when I write the scene.
Drafting THE BEDWETTER in Scrivener
I downloaded the Beta of Scrivener for Windows over a year ago and played around with it, but didn’t use it seriously. I got serious with THE BEDWETTER. I created folders for characters, research, and scenes. Scrivener 2.0 isn’t perfect either, but it offers scads of cool project management features geared toward writers. I love using it now and likely will continue to do so.
Starting mid-February, I began taking my Blockbuster scene sheets and writing actual scenes from them. Weeknights I would spend two to three hours in any one of half a dozen coffee shops around Pittsburgh’s east end—the same on Saturdays and five hours on Sundays—drafting scenes and making progress. I didn’t start keeping detailed stats until March 3, but here are my word count stats so far:
My initial goal for a first-person, present-tense novel in this voice was 42,500 words. But by the time I finished the beginning scenes and started writing the middle, I realized it would be longer. My present goal is 52,500. We’ll see where it comes in at when I’m finished. And I already have 45 scenes; my total will exceed 59.
Read the First Scene of THE BEDWETTER
I invite you to read a draft of the first scene. I’m warning you, it’s dark. (I’ll confide that some of it has been tough to write.) But I must remain true to my inspiration. This story wants to be told, and I’ve never before enjoyed such a flow of ideas and writing.
I’ll keep you updated on my progress. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you!
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