Bill Petrocelli

Front Story, Back Story – Where do you find the Story?

The women who run Fresh Fiction seem to be everywhere at once. When they’re not carpooling the kids, they’re doing book videos –sometimes they do both at the same time! In the blog piece that I wrote for them I tried to focus on when you leave a character in the background, and when you need to bring him or her into the middle of the story:

Deciding what to write is always a problem. A blank piece of paper has traditionally been a writer’s nightmare. And a blank computer screen with all of its polite little prompts is, if anything, even more intimidating.

But what to write isn’t the only problem –what not to write is even a bigger issue. Even a short thriller – say, one that begins and ends in a week – requires that the writer think carefully about what to say and what to leave out. If each minute in a story covering one-week gets a ten-word sentence, you’d have a book of over 100,000 words and an undifferentiated pile of mush.

Writers typically focus on a series of key scenes and leave everything in between to be filled in by the reader’s imagination. If they need more, they usually have the characters recount earlier events and then reflect on them a bit, as they try to tie those prior events into the story. The trick is to shoe-horn the earlier events – the back story – into the story at hand without slowing down the narrative.

Sometimes that’s not so easy. The main story line of The Circle of Thirteen is written in the first-person narrative voice of Julia Moro, the young Security Director of the United Nations. She is trying to thwart a terrorist threat to the U.N. over a two-week period in 2082. That seems straightforward enough, but the problem it raises is suggested by the title of the book: The Circle of Thirteen. That title refers to a group of thirteen women leaders who had a major impact on society during the decades leading up to the events in the book. They are important enough to warrant more than just a passing reference in the story. To some extent their tale could be told as part of the back story, but they can’t stay in the background forever. As the book goes on, their story demands at times that they to be brought to the forefront.

The thirteen “Women for Peace” leaders are introduced on page 12 of The Circle of Thirteen at the dedication ceremony for the new U.N. headquarters in 2082. This introduction comes in the form of a huge bronze sculpture of them that is being installed as a memorial in the new building. But the thirteen women themselves are not there. They met a tragic end twenty-five years earlier.

Because these thirteen title-characters aren’t alive at the time the book begins, their story has to be told in reverse. The reader learns of their lives and accomplishments through a combination of back-story and flashbacks. Julia herself recounts parts of their story as it intersects with the investigation she is pursuing. That lays the groundwork for the rest of it. But the women only come to life through the eyes of Julia’s grandmother, Maya, in a series of poignant flashbacks.

The story of The Thirteen comes to a dramatic culmination on page 210 with a series of events that changes everything from that point forward.