Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | July 8, 2011

Handling Backstory in an Edit

I’m in what may be the most important editing stage for a new novel: cutting.

Cut, cut, cut! The reader of a thriller/mystery wants smooth, fast action. I need to have a large sign over my computer with those words.

The book I’m working with, Devil’s Blade, is scheduled for release in late August. It shares nothing with my first two books.

I’ll post a sample and synopsis on this blog in the next week or so.

Here’s what I’ve found to cut most. There was far too much backstory; even for one of the major characters, the shade of the protagonist’s voodoo-queen grandmother. I realized, upon a close reread, that a minor player had nearly a half-page of history. Cut!

The technique and management process I’m using may be useful. I use MS Word for composing. My brain/finger combination just knows where keyboard shortcuts lie. Each time I cut backstory, I use Command + X (or Ctrl + X if you use a PC) to cut the piece. Then I create a blank document and paste the bit from the clipboard. Each new document is named after the character, for example, “Dugan backstory,” and saved into a folder named “Backstory Clippings”). Hey, if later, I discover that I could use a little deeper character development, it’s a snap to go to the folder and do a copy/paste for that person. If the original backstory was good, keep what is pasted, if not, edit.

No matter how fascinated you are with a history of one of your characters, remember a thriller/mystery novel is not for creating history. The purpose is entertainment for your readers. To repeat, the reader of a thriller/mystery wants smooth, fast action.

The arc of your story may, like a dramatic symphony, have peaceful interludes, but those are but connective tissue for the muscular parts.


  1. I am not a thriller writer but I am definitely all about entertaining readers! I believe we must edit our stories as readers and not as writers to publish a story that a reader won’t want to put down even after the last word.

    • It is gratifying when a reader tells a writer that they didn’t want to finish the book because they didn’t want the story to end.

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