Sunday, April 16, 2023

Backstory - More than Meets the Eye

Jinx/Powder from the adult animation Arcane by Pxfuel

 What is a Backstory?

The backstory in creative work is more than meets the eye.  It is a background or history made to support or explain a character, land or kingdom so that the plot will make sense. As far as Fantasy novels go, there are abundant examples as the often complex storylines and generation-spanning scope can take some explaining. Just think of Anne McCaffrey's Pern and the dragons who fight thread, how Harry Potter was orphaned and why the Shire is in danger... every major aspect of a story has a history, informing the characters' actions, thoughts, ideologies and decisions. The question becomes not so much about what backstory is but about how much of it to utilize.

Why Have a Backstory?

The backstory can get a bad rap, mainly from its potential to bog the story down with too much tell and not enough show. The paradox is, too much backstory can feel like a yawn-inducing biography; but not enough and the character's actions or plot make no sense. It's a fine balance that goes deeper than 'she is like this because'....

Take Powder, later known as Jinx in the Sci-Fi Fantasy series Arcane. If we weren't shown how her childhood shaped her, how her miscalculation backfired, she wouldn't be easy to love. As it is, the heart pinches at her tragic story, her loss and her need. Her insanity...

Ash, wordsmith and recorder in Crown of Bones.

Writing a Backstory that Works

The goal of the backstory is to bring characters to life, making them more relatable, even if they are unlikable. In the case of Ash, her backstory unfolds through all three books, offering readers a chance to understand the intricacies of the plot in ways that aren't an obvious info dump. Again, too much backstory tells the story, giving the plot away. Not enough robs readers of a deeper connection to the characters, and the story as a whole.

I explore a few different ways to reveal the backstory in my current Amassia series: through the use of prologs where the reader can watch earlier events unfold in real-time. Through conversations with others, or inner diolog with oneself as in this example of Ash after her interview with Master Brogal.

... “That’s all I found, Master, but about my role in the Sanctuary—”

“I have a class to teach. Bring me the delegate report as soon as possible. That will be all.” He’s out the door in three strides, and I’m left staring at an empty desk. 

My eyes start to well and I exhale sharply, putting a stop to that. The chair scrapes the floor as I rise, shouldering my satchel. “I had a good trip to Tangeen, Master, save for the crossing,” I say to nobody. “No chance of me becoming a seafaring scribe anytime soon. How have you been?” But it’s a conversation we’ll never have. Master Brogal may be my guardian, but he’s no father. Not a warmhearted one, anyway. I’ve known this about him since I was eight years old, but still I yearn for…something more. It’s foolish—I could kick myself—it’s so foolish. I know better than to wish for what I can’t have...

Over the course of the three books, we learn just how deep the rabbit hole between Brogal and Ash but in a few sentences at the end of a scene, the groundwork is laid.

Game of Thrones with mega-multiple POV characters

Edit for Info-Dumps

Info-dumps are packets of information that we want the reader to know to better understand the world, the characters and plot. It's like in The Matrix where you get to download years of Jujitsu training in a matter of seconds (which works in the film). But, in a novel setting, instead of this info-dump being part of the story, it is separate, and out of sync. Instead of moving the story forward, it brings it to a screeching halt while we stop to say, by the way, you must know this about that... 

Note that the practice of info-dumping is human nature, especially for people sitting somewhere on the spectrum. (Think 75,000,000). 
“Info dumping,” or talking about an interest or passion, usually in detail and at length, is frequent in both ADHD and autism. In ADHD, the impulsivity plus passion equals a “spilling” kind of feeling, and the motor behind it can feel as if it's whirring. - The Washington Post

Given that this form of communication can be natural, it pays to watch closely for it in our writing. When you see it, get out the red pen.


One thing worth remembering is that mystery, especially in the first chapter or prolog, is golden. It's okay to hold back. Release things slowly. You can offer insights when readers need to know, slipping in those Easter Eggs beforehand that they will reflect on later. Sometimes, as in Curse of Shadows, it's the very last chapter of the book that reveals the whole truth.

And remember, to overwrite the backstory is to be human. Don't beat yourself up for that while you get the story down, but do edit and rewrite until it flows. The beauty of this approach is,that when the author fully understands the backstory, they may not even need to include it. Their deep and rich understanding of what shapes the characters and the lands will shine through in the choices they make, the mannerisms exhibited, and the range of temperaments expressed. 

In this way, the backstory will shine through as the story unfolds--unforced, unhurried and uncluttered.

Does anyone have a favorite or memorable backstory to tell?  Comments welcome!


Posts in the 'More Than Meets the Eye' Series

Book Titles

The End



Styling Characters



Kim Falconer, currently writing as A K Wilder, has released Crown of Bones, a YA Epic Fantasy with Curse of Shadows as book 2 in the series. Currently she is working on the third out in 2024

Kim can be found on  AKWilder TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Throw the bones, read your horoscopes or Raise Your Phantom on the site 

Monday, April 10, 2023

The Power of Words: How to Write a Compelling Blurb that Sells Your Book

Writing a book is hard work, but promoting it can be even harder. One of the most important elements of book promotion is crafting a strong blurb or promotional copy. You need something that will grab readers' attention quickly. Whether you're self-publishing or going through a traditional publishing route, learning how to write your own hook is essential to get your book noticed. In this article, we'll explore some tips and examples of how to write compelling blurbs and promotional copy that will help your book stand out in a crowded market.

Ask a question: Your blurb should grab readers' attention right from the first sentence. Consider starting with a question, a provocative statement, or a compelling description of your story's setting or characters.
Example: "What would you do if you woke up one day with no memory of who you are or how you got there? In this gripping psychological thriller, a girl must piece together the fragments of her shattered past before it's too late."
Focus on the main conflict: Your blurb should give readers a clear idea of what your story is about and what's at stake for your characters. Make sure to highlight the main conflict or problem your protagonist is facing.
Example: "When a powerful corporation threatens to bulldoze his family's farm, John must find a way to save his land and his way of life. But as he goes up against ruthless developers and corrupt politicians, he realizes that the fight for his home may cost him everything he holds dear."
Keep it concise: Your blurb should be short and sweet, ideally no more than 150-200 words. Focus on the most important details and avoid getting bogged down in extraneous information or subplots.
Example: "In this heart-pounding thriller, a young detective must track down a serial killer who's targeting the city's most vulnerable residents. But as the body count rises and the killer closes in, she realizes that she may be the next victim."
Use vivid language: Your blurb should paint a vivid picture of your story's world and characters. Use descriptive language and sensory details to bring your story to life and make readers feel like they're there.
Example: "Set against the sweeping backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, this epic historical fiction novel follows the tumultuous life of a young woman who defies convention to pursue her dreams. From the rugged landscapes to the colorful characters, every page is filled with breathtaking beauty and heart-pounding drama."
End with a call to action: Your blurb should encourage readers to take action and buy your book. Consider ending with a cliffhanger or a provocative question that leaves readers wanting more.
Example: "With unforgettable characters, pulse-pounding action, and twists you won't see coming, this book is a must-read for fans of suspense and mystery. Don't miss out on the thrill ride of the year - order your copy today!"
Writing a strong blurb or promotional copy is an art form, and it takes practice to get it right. By following the tips we've outlined in this article, you'll be well on your way to creating a hook that will capture readers' attention and leave them wanting more. Remember to keep it concise, use powerful language, and highlight the most unique and interesting elements of your story. With a well-crafted blurb, you'll be able to draw readers in and convince them to give your book a chance.

Here, USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Merrie Destefano is seen out walking in the wild, holding her newest book: Valiant: The illustrated paperback. To learn more about this book and to see the hardback companion, please visit her current Kickstarter campaign. Those who back her campaign before Tuesday, April 11th will get two free stories (Suvival and Outrun The Devil) on top of their chosen tier.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Is Kickstarter the new way to launch books?

Easy answer? Yes. And no.

No, it isn’t actually new.

And it didn’t happen overnight. It had a few heavy hitters like Brandon Sanderson to pave the way. 

But it is becoming one of the best ways I’ve seen in a long time for indie authors to launch their books.

The Kickstarter phenomena is intriguing to me, as someone who came from a traditionally published background—with books by HarperCollins, Entangled Teen, and Walter Foster, plus a long career working in publishing, first as a graphic designer and illustrator, then as an editor for both book and magazine publishing companies.

What I’ve seen with Kickstarter book launches rivals what I’ve seen done by the “Big Five” publishers. My writing career was starting right about the same time as Leigh Bardugo and Marie Lu, and I still consider them both friends. Their book campaigns were fabulous!

Except for personal appearances, what I’ve seen some authors achieve on Kickstarter comes pretty darn close to what the big publishers do for their top books.

But sometimes, Kickstarter authors take it to a higher level. 

Hardbacks with a dust jacket, interior illustrations, and custom chapter headings are only the beginning. Sometime they offer book boxes and books with sprayed edges.

These are what I would call top-notch, book boutique campaigns. And when the author has the right project, the right book, and the right campaign, the sky isn’t even close to the limit.

The limit is outer space.

A friend of mine, Russell Nohelty, knows the ins and outs of this platform, and he succeeds with his campaigns on a regular basis. He even has a book (Get Your Book Selling on Kickstarter, co-written with Monica Leonelle) for those of you (like me) who want to learn more about launching your own Kickstarter campaign.

I asked Russell about his background and experience with Kickstarter and this is what he had to say:

“I started on Kickstarter in 2014, but I launched two Indiegogo campaigns starting in 2011. I have been using crowdfunding since the early days, even though I didn’t have my first big success until 2017. 

“Still, even in those early days, crowdfunding kept me in business and allowed me to produce more books. 

“I have always used Kickstarter to test new lines of product, and even if you are very successful using KU and have no interest in launching books on Kickstarter, you can expand your business through comics and games, both of which are stronger on Kickstarter than anywhere else.

“I just worked with a board game publisher to launch a card game for one of my series, and we even did a licensed deal last year for a coffee line that launched on Kickstarter.

“There is unlimited potential to grow your audience and expand your product line using crowdfunding. No matter if you are just getting started or an old pro, I bet dollars to donuts there is a way to use crowdfunding that is perfect for you.”

I personally love his last paragraph because I believe it’s true. If you’re an indie author and you’ve been wondering how to take your work to the next level, I suggest you start studying successful Kickstarter campaigns. Maybe consider joining the Kickstarter for Authors Facebook group, created and run by another friend of mine, Anthea Sharp

And, yes, I'm joining the crowd of authors who are launching their books on Kickstarter! My campaign for Valiant is here. 

"The end of the earth is just the beginning."

This campaign includes a color illustrated hardback book and a black and white illustrated paperback book, a set of Space Arcana cards, bookmarks, stickers, digital computer wallpaper, and more.

Reviews & Endorsements:

“Breakneck adventure, high stakes, kickass heroine, time- twisting narrative—seriously captivating sci-fi!.” —Tosca Lee, New York Times bestselling author of The Progeny

“Edge of Tomorrow meets Terminator in this riveting, post-apocalyptic adventure from Merrie Destefano.” —Paul Regnier, author of the Space Drifter series

if you want to check out my Kickstarter campaign, it just launched today!  And if you want watch to my book trailer for Valiant, here it is!

USA Today Bestselling and Multiple Award-Winning author, Merrie Destefano writes lyrical tales of magic, mystery, and hope. Her books include Valiant, Lost Girls, Shade, A Place of Magic, and Fathom. You can learn more about her work by visiting her website and you can get a free short story by signing up for her newsletter.

Russell Nohelty:

You can check out Russell Nohelty’s upcoming Kickstarter campaign here. 

Brandon Sanderson:

You can check out Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter campaign here. 

Also, Russell and I both have articles in the April issue of INDIE AUTHOR MAGAZINE. Click the link to check them out!

Monday, April 3, 2023

Refusing the Call 2.0

 The Hero's Journey Reimagined: Refusing the Call

I think this is the phase in the journey that has changed the most for me, in life and in writing. Perhaps it is the growing up thing that I fought tooth and nail. Perhaps it is just becoming the Author of my own life, but this phase has taken on a new meaning. 

On a hero's journey after hearing a Call to Adventure asking for help, the phase known as "Refusing the Call" highlights what exactly the hero thinks about himself. They are not just saying, "No I don't want to," but more along the lines of "I'm afraid because of ..." That dot-dot-dot is the real part of themselves that they will have to overcome in the adventure ahead.

My favorite case in point is our man Luke Skywalker, who refuses to go with Ben Ken-obi by saying, and I'm flagrantly misquoting, "No I can't go with you. I have to stay on the farm with Uncle Owen." He's not really saying that he has to stay on the farm with his Uncle. What he is really saying is that he is afraid that he is not awesome like his father and he's just a lowly farm boy. Once the farm is removed from the picture, literally, he spends the rest of the movie trying to become awesome like his father. Sort of.

However, looking back at this phase, its more than just an inner fear holding the hero back, especially in a hero that has seen the world (Luke had never even left the planet). It is a firmly held belief in his own capabilities holding him back. He has not been strong enough in the past. He has made mistakes in his past. He has potentially hurt people in the past. These actions of failure have lead to a belief that he is not good enough, not brave enough, could never be brave enough. He has proof in the external world in the form of memories, mementos, maybe even scars that all inform that belief that his is not enough to be a Hero. And all of those come rushing back when an opportunity for change presents itself.

Toby Allen designed a series of Mental Illness Monsters and I think Anxiety is probably the best on that weighs on a hero's mind for this phase. It is a voice, his own voice, that tells him he is not strong enough and here is the proof. It is a little voice making lists of all the bad things that have happened and all the bad things that could happen.  It is a monster that has taken up residence in his head that will fight and scream constantly during this phase in the Hero's Journey to ignore the call, turn away from the fight and NOT be Heroic.

Changing a belief is almost harder than facing a fear. Change is hard. And to even attempt to quiet that little monster of Anxiety, it going to take a miracle. Or a Mentor. But that is for next time. 

In the meantime, LIVE HEROICALLY!

Amanda Arista


Twitter: @pantherista
Website links:

Saturday, April 1, 2023

The "Band of Brothers" in Fantasy #3 -- Celebrating "The Scooby Gang"


Currently, I'm featuring the "band of brothers" in Fantasy fiction. Initially, I looked at its mythic and historical origins, then at at how it's evolved in the genre, particularly through formative works such as The Lord of the Rings and David Gemmell's Legend.

The Last Kingdom's shield wall.


I also mentioned that the band's sibling, the "Scooby gang", is equally integral to the wider Fantasy landscape -- and today I'm taking a closer look.

While there's an exception to every rule, the "band of brothers" very often begins as a group of disparate individuals and personalities, forged into a brotherhood by adverse, and extreme, circumstances.

The Scooby gang, on the other hand, usually starts off with friends or acquaintances, who gather up other like-minded buddies along the way. And while the stakes may be high, they're usually not quite as grim, dark, and "fate of worlds"-centric as for the "band" -- although as mentioned last month, that can change, as it did for Harry, Ron, and Hermione (plus sidekicks) over the course of the Harry Potter series.

Scooby gangs frequently star in YA fiction -- and a recent favorite is Rupa and her fellow ghoul and ghost-hunting friends in Tendai Huchu's Edinburgh Night series. A Scooby gang also features in TJ Klune's The House in The Cerulean Sea, where the group of children who are also supernatural beings are integral to the storytelling.

Tamsyn Muir's Locked Tomb series is another that contains an assorted group of (at-heart) friends cutting a rapier-wielding swathe across a universe of necromancers and undead legions. 

The series has strong elements of "caper" storytelling, too, where the band-of-(mostly)-buddies ribbing each other, but also having their pals' backs, is essential to the adventure. And of the lighter style of quest-journey, where a wisecracking band-of-buddies are often key to the storytelling.

We see both traditions in The Hobbit, where Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves are far closer to a Scooby gang than a "band of brothers." Their quest, particularly Bilbo's designated role as thief, has "caper" elements. And although the journey has scary moments, their adventures also have plenty of humor.

The four hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, who are also friends, may start in a similar way to The Hobbit, but the story quickly gets much grimmer and darker. So by the time the fellowship is formed, it's definitely in "band of brothers" territory.

In terms of other more recent works, Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora is also a dark tale -- but the the titular Locke and his Gentlemen Bastards are a band of confidence tricksters, playing a multi-sided game of doublecross, theft, and vengeance. While the "band-of-buddies", who are also "brothers", is the heart of Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys.

Speaking of ravens, not all Scooby gangs are human -- as demonstrated by Cinrak the Dapper and her swashbuckling rodent shipmates, who (aided and abetted by shorebound pals) sail the high seas in AJ Fitzwater's charming piratical adventure. 

Not that Scooby gangs and bands-of -brothers are an either-or option, when all's said and done. They exist on the same spectrum, so it's not unusual to get a group of characters that blend the two. Ash and her friends, in AK Wilder's Amassia series, are a great example of this. They've grown up together, studying and training, and that camaraderie and banter infuse their relationships. 

Their quest journey, though, quickly becomes one of alarms and high adventure, in which not only romance but dangers abound, and the fate of the world is definitely at stake. So I suspect they're well along the path to becoming a fully fledged band-of-brothers, as well as buddies!


About the Author:

Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet, and lover of story. With four books published to date, she is currently completing the final instalment in The Wall Of Night series.

Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we.


Previous Posts:

February: Honing in on 2021Celebrating the "Band of Brothers"
March: Celebrating the "Band of Brothers" in Fantasy #2