Sprinkle with Backstory to Finish

I recently discovered that I can write erotica. I’m as surprised as you are.

Here’s the thing about erotica. It’s not so much that nobody cares about the plot, as that it’s not the main reason your reader is there. It’s just that a good story along with your sexy times is a nice bonus, you know?

For my latest, I wrote what I think was a really nice story. Two lovers separated by a civil war reunite when one captures the other’s ship. The captured captain needs to distract his former lover long enough for an escape plan to work. Sexy times ensue. And then there’s a resolution. Boom. A story. A successful story, judging by the fact that it not only sold, but more stories have been requested.

Prior to writing this story, I opened up my timeline program and determined not just the birth dates of the two captains, but of the warring monarchs as well. I determined when the war broke out, why the war broke out, and why the lovers ended up on opposite sides. I knew when the two captains first became lovers, I knew the extent of their friendships with the monarchs, when the rightful queen was coronated, and when the usurper attacked. I even know what motivated the usurper to attack.

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And none of that information is sexy. If I’d included all the detail I had in my head, not only would the story have been bloated, it would have been boring.  That backstory that I’d worked so hard to create formed a base that allowed me to enrich the world, like a sprinkling of Kosher salt - enhancing without overwhelming.

Backstory is important to any story, sexy or otherwise. It’s what makes characters feel like people and your world feel like their home. Too many writers, particularly fantasy, want to not just include it, but begin the story with it. There’s a very good chance I will never care enough to want to read about your rich tapestry of 1000 years of history for your kingdom. I definitely do not in your first chapter.

We all have different writing processes. Maybe you don’t need a full-on timeline with births, deaths, and major events for the past few decades, but you do need to remember that these characters should feel as if they existed before you started writing them. They have parents and cousins and old friends they haven’t seen in 10 years. They have fears and hopes and dreams. They’ve probably had a bad breakup or suffered the death of someone close. You should know these things, even though the reader gets only a hint of them. Whether you’re world building a small town in Maine, an entire fantasy world, or an entire sci-fi universe, that world existed long before your story begins, and you need to make sure your readers can tell that history exists.

Take your story on a backstory slim-down. Leave enough of it there to flavor your story, to enhance it. And if you still want to tell that backstory, post it on your blog as bonus content after you get the main story published.

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Donna A. Leahey

As a child in school, Donna Leahey turned her vocabulary homework into short stories. Years later, she is still crafting stories. Geek, gamer, writer, mother, procrastinator, and pet lover, Donna is a practicing veterinarian and free-lance writer as well as an active creator of podcasts. You can hear her and her friends on Beyond the Cabin in the Woods: A Good Ghouls Guide to Horror, Collective Snark, and Once More With Feeling: A 20th Anniversary Buffy Fancast as well as her 4th podcast, The Family Business: A Supernatural Fancast. You can follow her on Twitter.