The Backstory as an Integral Part of a Novel

Andrea here, musing today about backstories. Now, as a fiction writer, I consider backstories an integral part of the writing process for my characters. I try to imagine basic things about them—vulnerabilities, issues from the past, surprise revelations about quirks or talents—that I can reveal to readers. It’s especially fun if the characters are part of an ongoing series, where I can slowly unpeel layers—like with an onion!—to show the hidden depths.

But in my upcoming book, THE DIAMOND OF LONDON, the idea of backstory takes a  little different twist. In this book I delve into a new genre of historical fiction and have penned a fictional biography. Yes, I know, that sounds like an oxymoron, and at first I wasn’t sure whether I felt comfortable taking it on. My publisher wanted to bring to life the stories of remarkable women in history whose achievements have been hidden for too long in the shadows of traditional historical narratives. I loved the idea so I decided to do delve into the challenge and see if I picture a way to combine fact and fiction, as I would be imagining my subject’s thoughts and feelings.

I chose Lady Hester Stanhope (above) as a possible subject. I knew a bit about her later life as one of the early 19th century’s most famous adventurer. She excavated ruins in the Levant, raised her own private army and brokered power-sharing with the warlords of the region, wore men’s clothing and rode astride . . . in other words, she said “convention be damned—I’m going to live exactly as I please!”

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Why Do Regency Heroines Swoon?

Fainting-1Andrea here, musing on “the Swoon,” one of the traditional minor but memorable secondary tropes of Regency romances. Fainting is far less prevalent in today’s historical novels—or it's used for tongue-in-cheek effect—as women aren’t as apt to be portrayed weak, flighty creatures. (What self-respecting modern heroine would fall into a faint at the first sign of trouble or bad news? These days, if accosted by a villain, she would likely punch him in the nose rather than swoon and hope to be rescued by her hero!)

But all jesting aside . . . the phenomenon of fainting from an emotional trigger (shocking news, fear, anxiety, etc) is actually a real medical condition called Vasovagal syncope. It happens when the part of the nervous system that controls heart rate and blood pressure reacts to stress. The heart slows, blood pressure suddenly drops, the blood vessels widen in your legs, causing the blood to drop to the lower extremities, thus oxygen has a hard time getting to the brain. So you, um, swoon. (It’s often called the Vagal Response because the vagus nerve is involved in controlling the blood vessels, and when it’s overstimulated by stress, unpleasant things can happen!)

How do I know this? Well . . .


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Hellion Heroines

Murder at Kensington PalaceAndrea here, musing today about heroines . . .or more specifically, hellion heroines. Murder at Kensington Palace, my latest Wrexford & Sloane Regency mystery released this week, and as the creation of a book is quite a journey, from the first glimmer of an idea to the final pages being ready for a reader to begin turning, I always like to sit back and reflect a bit on the process.

Regency reader 2 copyIt’s great fun constructing the plot and weaving in enough twists and turns to keep people guessing (though as a total “pantser”, I confess that I’m sometimes in danger of tripping over my own two feet!) However, for me the real heart of crafting a story is creating the characters—how to give them challenges and vulnerabilities, how to make them both flawed but appealing enough that readers will cheer for them to overcome all obstacles. And in a series, where the protagonists carry over from book to book, the characters have to grow—as we all do through our journey through life.

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