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Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel Revised and Expanded Edition, 2nd Edition by Sara Paretsky, Hallie Ephron

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Chapter 22

Layering in Backstory

“The first draft of my second novel, Common Murder, began with five beautifully crafted chapters of backstory for my protagonist, Lindsay Gordon. When I sent it off to my agent, she said, ‘Lose the first five chapters. They’re lovely, but they don’t tell the story. Everything you’ve told us here can be fed in as and when we need to know it.’”

—Val McDermid

Suppose you’re writing a novel that starts with a brutal rape and murder. In the opening scene, medical examiner Renata Ruiz examines the body. The reader doesn’t know that Renata grew up poor on a farm in central California, put herself through college, modeled for Playboy magazine in college to make ends meet, and, most important, was the victim of a brutal ...

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