Here are my notes from Diana Gabaldon’s Managing a Mob workshop:
workshop notes: Back story by Diana Gabaldon November 30, 2018
The following notes were taken at Surrey International Writers’ Conference, October 21, 2012. (On Oct 23, 2012 I posted a blog that said I’d post notes ‘soon.’ Is six years later soon? lol)
What to do with the Back story
SIWC 2012 Friday
Backstory is what happened to your characters before they got to your front story. Backstory still exists, the secret story you’re not telling, but you may give the reader a peek, but it’s every bit of a story. How much are you going to let them see of the back story?.
Story doesn’t have to start when the character begins, it starts where the conflict starts.
How much does the author need to know vs how much the reader needs to know. Some authors like to know everything, family trees, index cards, details Myer Briggs
(Aside: Diana is INTJ/F (50 each end) on Myers Briggs)
What situation is your character in. Remembering back to when she wrote Disney comics… In comic books, first page set up, big square shows main character and conflict. 4 small squares provide details, bottom of the page off on adventure. Very straight-forward structure. In novels, first page we need to know char/conflict. Need to refer to your back story that explains how he does what he does, pick and choose where things are, when they go off on the story adventure.
Motivation: Entire arcs depends on the motivation, get out, get in deeper. Want to give the story shape. Back story explains motivation. It helps to understand the psychology of the character
Diana starts writing and discovers it as she goes along. The story evolved as the characters did over the years. Logistically, something happened, use something else if you’ve mentioned previously. You don’t need to know everything. You just need to know them by the end! J It’s for you as an author to burnish and polish them to know. Motherlode of info to mine out as you need it. Characters detailed resume and psych profile, actual personality and speech is what lets them do the job.
Show vs tell. Character needs to speak for himself without telling everything.
What does the reader need to know, don’t tell anything until they need to know it. Gloat over your secret. (Know the 5W+H)
Who’s central? Where and what is he doing? When may/not be important (Once upon a time there was a woodcutter who lived in a forest. One day…)
Backstory IS the story in a mystery- historical novels, Josephine Hay Daughter of Time Richard 3, thrillers and murder mysteries, what led to the moment of violence? The identity novel- adopted.
19th c they spread out the story longer picturesque novel- it’s out of date- no patience these days, you have start with the excitement. Unless you’re writing in a deliberately antiquated voice. Follow the action in both front and back story.
Modern version modified authorial intrusion. Old fashioned, Narrator unobtrusively adds.
(she tells the marijuana with grandma in the hospital story…lol)
When Lord John talks it’s normal, but the modern reader needs a little more info to understand how it was then. (“of course there would be no rule of order” Author must sneak up behind the character and whisper over his shoulder)
Reminding people of the Jacquard effect : Same colour, so it’s very subtle, rich look. In text , weave back into the front.
e.g.Percy blurp from MOBY daily line last week. (Can’t find a reference to Percy Oct 2012 daily lines. Perhaps this from ECHO?) https://www.dianagabaldon.com/books/outlander-series/an-echo-in-the-bone/excerpt-5-an-echo-in-the-bone-sometimes-theyre-really-dead-lord-john-grey/
or tell it to another character, because the character needs the info. You have to have a reason for telling that char what happened in the past.
Rachel and Ian walking to Valley Forge (Diana doing Scottish accent. HA!) Ian having been married before/ not asking Rachel to marry him when he thought Wolf eyes over her knee, Rollo making his allegiance clear… Sneaking insertion of back story of Ian joining the Mohawk and marrying Emily “Oh Ian, I do love thee” (See end of notes for section*)
You have high tension dialogue going on, keep sense of the relationship, following the importance of the book. The front story is clearly more important than the backstory, but response reveals current info.
Question time at end of workshop:
Is your throat okay? I just naturally sound hoarse, but it’s better when I have some water
Should we have prologues? Prologue some people skip the prologue, but those are probably the same people who skip to the back of the book, and we don’t talk about those people.
Sometimes the Prologue can be used as hook if first chapter is slow.
For Diana, the prologue is the thematic statement. It reveals the “Voice of the book”.
Do you plan the arc of the conversation? No
I ask, 😊 “Were the short stories and the Lord John books back story before they became stories on their own?”
Not really, Lord Johns fill in gaps, but I didn’t know there was gap. I wrote Scottish Prisoner little gap time. Check the timetable of history, oh. Battle of Quebec, I’ll send him there.
WW2 buff told her a Spitfire couldn’t have travelled over the channel, so she says “I bet I can work out a way that this is true…” and so Wind of All Hallows. Didn’t know Roger’s parents’ story, but knew they had an interesting story.
How did a story as long as Outlander get accepted?! Outlander 304,000 words shortest of the series. It was far too long to be accepted at the time, but she was sneaky and hid the length. One way she got away with it
Deception: Husband was a programmer, back then publishers didn’t use computers. Outlander ms was all in written Courier 10, normal set ms Times Roman 12, looks 25% shorter than it was, played with margins .9” When finalized with traditional sizes the typesetter nearly had heart attack, but it was too late. 😊
How to research- university libraries, research closest to hand and follow the thread (who said what info about what interesting thing, what resources did he use). Sometimes you just can’t find, and that’s lucky because then you can just make it up. 😊
How do you start? She starts writing each day with a kernel, something concrete- euphonious, where is the light, what’s happening? She thinks back and forth around the kernel, things are floating around in your head, bits start sticking together, after a couple years it makes sense
Someone asks about the duality of having a science PhD and writing: Art and science are both the same thing, the ability to find patterns. Devise hypothesis- is the pattern real- artist embodies in other way of showing, Scientist test purpose observation. For a writer the hypothesis is the novel and research is peoples’ response. Predict what happened in the gap. Historical serendipity- imagine something that later turns out to be true- if you really embody it well.
How long did it take to write? It took 18 mos to write Outlander. Scene polished as you go, so later revision basically unnecessary- just tweeks.
*Here is part of the daily line chunk that was read as example earlier to show how background information is given, but it weaves in with current story:
“Perhaps,” Rachel said, and swallowed, pushing him away with one hand flat on his chest, “perhaps thee should finish telling me about not being married, before we go further? Who was thy—thy wife—and what happened to her?”
He let go of her reluctantly, but would not surrender her hand. It felt like a small live thing, warm in his.
“Her name is Wakyo’teyehsnohnsa,” he said, and felt the accustomed inner shift at the speaking of it, as though the line between his Mohawk self and his white self had momentarily disappeared, leaving him awkwardly suspended somewhere in between. “It means Works with her Hands.” He cleared his throat. “I called her Emily. Most of the time.”
Rachel’s small, smooth hand jerked in his.
“Is?” she said, blinking. “Thee said _is_? Thy wife is _alive_?”
“She was a year ago,” he said, and with an effort, didn’t cling to her hand, but let her take it back. She folded her hands in her lap, fixed her eyes on him and swallowed; he saw her throat move.
“All right,” she said, with no more than a faint tremor in her voice. “Tell me about her.”
He took another deep breath, trying to think how to do that, but then abandoned the effort and spoke simply.
“D’ye truly want to know that, Rachel? Or do ye only want to ken whether I loved her—or whether I love her now?”
“Start there,” she said, lifting one brow. “_Does_ thee love her?”
(selection (c) Diana Gabaldon Written in My Own Heart’s Blood)
poem- grateful December 12, 2017
You give yourself
in generous helpings,
spinning your blessings
into our blessings
into your blessings
into our blessings.
Oh, I am grateful
for such a
I’m deliriously thankful
this dancing, scribing circle
Another one for Diana, whose generousity of time and spirit are an inspiration.
Early in my publishing life, editor Sylvia Taylor spoke at a workshop about the importance of community: how as writers we reach up for guidance and assistance and we reach down to share benefit of our experience. I have seen many examples of this in the last decade, to my privilege and joy. Just this week, on one hand I purchased the book from a writer I’d encouraged at a conference, when this book was a dream, and on the other hand, I received an endorsement for my new book from a best-selling author. It’s a giant circle of support. We’re each other’s readers, promoters, flag wavers, editors, and shoulders to cry on. If you’re a writer, don’t sit alone, join a circle! You belong where people *really* understand about the voices in your head! 🙂 I highly endorse writing conferences as being the places to meet.
VOCABULARY LESSONS WITH KERRY GREENWOOD IN DEATH BY WATER February 25, 2017
One of the most popular posts on my blog, still getting regular visits after several years is Vocabulary Lessons with Diana Gabaldon, which is a list of new words I discovered while reading Diana’s Outlander series. When I began reading Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books, I was finding all sorts of interesting words, but it was only after reading a dozen of the books that I finally managed to annotate vocab from one. Better late than never?
The Phryne Fisher mystery series is set in 1920’s Australia, so some of the words and phrases are regional or archaic slang. They’re still entertaining! A note of interest- The Phryne Fisher books are published by Poisoned Pen Press- out of Phoenix. I’ve visited The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, which is Diana Gabaldon’s local independent bookstore, as she lives nearby.
VOCABULARY FROM DEATH BY WATER (2005)
These are words or phrases which are either new to me, or used in a new way. I pulled the definitions off the first site Google took me to, usually their own definition box.
ANODYNE: “At this early hours the musical entertainment consisted of Mavis at the piano, playing anodyne pieces designed not to offend.” P. 74
- A painkilling medicine
- Something that will not cause offense
BORACIC LOTION: “ The boracic lotion had worked. The inflammation had gone down.” P. 149
- Boric acid lotion, a mild antiseptic and fungicide used as a wash for skin and eyes. Also relieves skin itching.
BORONIA: “I always did like boronia.” P. 185
- Boronia is a genus of about 160 species of flowering plants in the citrus family Rutaceae, most are endemic in Australia with a few species in New Caledonia. (Where is this New Caledonia? British Columbia was called New Caledonia – there is College of New Caledonia in Prince George.) Images show flowers with 4 or 5 petals with an eye shape in white, pink, or purple.
COCK-A-HOOP: “That policeman was cock-a-hoop,” p. 205
- Extremely and obviously pleased about a success. It’s an old phrase- from the 17th century, apparently. Is it still used commonly anywhere?
CONSTRUE: “Phryne gathered up her Chaucer and her glass of gin and tonic and began to construe.” P. 97
I know this word as something like ‘interpreted’ but that is obviously not how it’s used here. Either of these definitions could work.
- Analyze syntax or study the grammar of something.
DEPENDING: “Phryne caught the eye. So did the sapphire, depending from its carefully securable collar.” P. 68 Phryne Fisher wore dark blue and a collar of sapphires, with the great stone depending to her porcelain bosom, which drew Mr. Forrester’s eyes.” P. 194
- I’ve only used this to mean something relies on something else, but obviously in this instance it means hanging, or suspended. This is an archaic literary use.
EMBONPOINT: “Like many from poor hungry beginnings, she has considerable embonpoint and the temperament almost expected of opera singers.” P. 40
- Plump or fleshy part of a person’s body, a woman’s bosom.
(This was not at all what I was expecting the word to mean!)
EXOGAMOUS: “’Because I bet the Maori are exogamous,” said Phryne, who had not waster her time since she left school. ‘Therefore fathers always come from outside the mother’s tribe.’” P 77
- arrangement where couples marry outside their social group.
GALANTINE: “I thought keas were parrots,’ said Phryne, dissecting a delicious slice off her veal and chicken galantine and spearing it on a piece of cucumber.’” P. 107
- de-boned chicken, stuffed, and poached. It is served cold.
GAS AND GAITERS: “Mind, tomorrow there might be some sore heads, but tonight all was gas and gaiters. P. 170
- Interesting and thorough analysis of this phrase is here http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-gas1.htm
- It means everything is going well, and originated as the ravings of a mad man in Dicken’s novel Nicholas Nickelby. (1839).
GOANNA: “It was heralded by a strong smell of goanna oil liniment.” P. 13
- Goanna is a large Australian lizard, so I was concerned they were boiling the critters for liniment, but further investigation led me to http://www.grabthegoanna.com.au/goanna-products/goanna-rubs/goanna-oil-liniment/ which lists the ingredients for this well-loved Australian liniment as paraffin oils, eucalyptus, camphor, turpentine and pine oil. Not a lizard inside, but there’s one on the label.
JAZZ COLOURS: “It was figured with Pierrot and Columbine in jazz colours of black, white and purple.” P.44
Several Phryne novels refer to “jazz colours” and I always wondered what they were. In this novel, she spells it out at last!
LIANAS: The trees soared up out of sight, yards in diameter and hung with lianas and vines.” P. 114
- A woody type of vine that uses trees for support on its way to reach the canopy of a rainforest (apparently up to 3000 feet, which is impressive).
MILLAIS POSE: “There was a silence while a newly renovated doctor stared at Phryne Fisher in her blue suit, her hands folded in her lap in that Millais pose, her eyes as sharp as emeralds.” P. 188
- Millais was an English pre-Raphaelite painter. Studying many of his works, there seems to be a wide variety of hand positions, but perhaps this is what it referenced:
MISS SAYERS- There’s a question of whether a character prefers Miss Christie or Miss Sayer.”
- This refers to Dorothy L. Sayers. Apparently PBS has Sayer Mystery movies, so now I have to hunt those down.
MORASS: “’Boy’s probably knee deep in a morass by now,’ said Mr. Aubrey.” P. 128
- A boggy ground
- A complicated situation
MOROCAIN: “Left alone, Dot stroked her bedspread, which was of rose patterned satin, and then sat down on Phryne’s bed, which was very springy and covered with dark blue morocain.” P. 11
- Webster says it’s Moroccan red, but images elsewhere show a silk crepe fabric that seems to be quite heavy, though still flowy. Since Phryne’s cover is blue, not red, I’m going with the heavy weight fabric definition.
POEM: “Professor Applegate, wearing her other Molyneus evening gown, a slightly frayed poem in black cherry brocade, smiled.” P. 149
- I’ve hunted all over, and I can’t find anything that indicates there was any kind of garment or fabric called a poem, so I think Greenwood means it as a metaphor for something of unexpected beauty.
POULET Á LA REINE: “They’re a bit tight lipped about their methods,’ said the professor, beginning on her poulet à la reine.” P. 140
- Chicken and spinach inside a puff pastry, served with a white sauce.
PRE-PRANDIAL: “‘Call for a small pre-prandial nip’ Phryne said, still laughing.’Gin for me.’” P 67
- Before a meal
PUSSY’S BOW: “I reckon I’m about filled up with tea to pussy’s bow,” said Minton. P. 181
- An Australian idiom referring to a bow tied at the neck.
REALISE: Mrs. Singer had decided to go home to Melbourne, realise Mr. Singer’s estate and buy a small house.” P. 219
- Conversion of assets into cash; actualization
RECCE: “’A little recce,’ said Phryne and , taking Caroline by the arm, led her out and shut the door.” P. 87
- Reconnaissance; a military term
RETAILING: Mr. Forrester, who had palmed Mrs. West off on an unoccupied officer, was telling stories of Paris and artist’s models, and Phryne was retailing how she had once found herself entirely naked and freezing, the only blanket in the atelier being used to cover the artist’s pet wolfhound, and decided at that point that being a model was not as glamorous as she had been led to believe.” P. 202-3
- to recount or relate details of an event to someone
SENTENTIOUSLY: “’Handsome is as handsome does,’ said Phryne sententiously.” P 51
- moralizing pompously
SHIKARS: “’I’ve been on a lot of shikars in my time, young man,’ he added to Jack Mason.” P. 106
- big game hunt
SPIFFLICATE: “Needs to go and spifflicate himself on some cold rock.” P. 152
- destroy; treat badly
SYBARITES: “It was too early for the real sybarites who never breakfasted but arose in good time for lunch.” P. 45
- those who indulge in self-indulgent luxury
TANIWANA: “Some of the stokers said she was an evil taniwhara.” P. 52
- spirits in New Zealand which take a human body, except they belong to places, similar to Greek naiads.
poem-appealing February 6, 2016
“a man in a kilt will always be more appealing than anyone in lederhosen.”
The appeal is likely the easier peeling?
poem- savings November 18, 2015
When Brianna asked why the Brits have such horrible toilet paper,
“Hearts of oak are our men,” Roger intoned, “stainless steel are their bums. It builds the national character.”
Diana Gabaldon in
Dragonfly in Amber
The government is loudly raving
school districts must search for savings!
As they replaced all our paper dispensers
with giant boxes, our sphinxters grew tenser
The paper that’s extruded, (please trust this fact)
is a complete and absolute pain on the ass.
We’ve had to get tougher as the years go by
but this toilet paper, with its single thick, crispy ply,
is taking it a step too far. If *Christie’s contract wasn’t enough,
You’re scraping us raw. Yeah. These days teaching is rough.
The government doesn’t seem to register
we don’t need to have stronger character!
* Christie Clark is the current Premier of BC, and former Minister of Education. Teachers dislike her for her destruction and defunding of education in BC.
RE-POSTED from AB-Ootlander: Bucketlist — Dining with Diana – August 21, 2015
I was there! 🙂 (You may find me “Hanging out at the Library” if you look). How lovely to meet these whacky ladies and spend time with them this weekend. Diana is right about her fans when she says they’re delightful, intelligent people! 🙂
I was busy in workshops rather than going out for lunch (*facepalm*) but it was certainly a great weekend!
Of course, this is my third trip to the When WORDS Collide Writing Conference. I was there as a presenter/writer not as a Diana fan, but it’s always great to see Diana and spend some time with her. I’m keeping our conversations to myself, but inside, I may have been just as excited as SherryLynn describes here. Perhaps even a little more. <g> Diana is awesome, considerate, funny, and patient. I think she makes everyone feel that she’s completely there for them. I watch and learn, in case some day I have an army of fans. 🙂
Enjoy the AB-Ootlander excitement!
How? How does something like THAT happen to normal people?
Ok…first. We perhaps aren’t normal. However the perfect storm WAS brewing.
An event- When Worlds Collide. Diana Gabaldon will attend said event. The ABOotlanders find out about said event and decide there is NO OTHER CHOICE. This is the perfect storm. The positive intent, good will, good people & love we have following us around – we knew this event was going to be one we would cherish no matter what.
I am sure you are curious as to how WE…the lowly AB-Ootlanders could have gotten Diana to dine with us. I assure you there were no Diana’s hurt in the making of this experience. No duct tape, or chloroform used, no draw of puppies/hedgehogs or Toger’s at the table (O.K. there was a Toger but we didn’t take that out til…
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