Tag Archives: Fiction University

The Importance of Backstory (Or How the Brain Connects the Present to the Past)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University today, talking about characters’ backstories, the human brain and implications for writers.

Here’s a teaser…

First, a brief excerpt from my own backstory—I recently let go of someone whom I have loved dearly my entire life. I did so because he was acting in a way that was far too reminiscent of my dysfunctional family.

I spent many hours and beaucoup dollars in my youth on therapy, and it was successful. For a very long time now, I’ve hardly given a thought to all that craziness I grew up with. So when this person, after experiencing a highly emotional event, suddenly began acting like his crazy father (the brother of my crazy father), I had to make a tough choice.

I contemplated letting it slide for the sake of family peace, but I repeatedly found my stomach, chest and throat tightening up in a very uncomfortable way. It took me awhile to sort out that this was the same uncomfortable feeling I’d had all too often as a child—a combination of confusion, fear and hurt.

Why am I telling you this sad story? Because it provides some excellent examples of the connections that I’m about to explain—between our minds, our bodies, and our emotions—and between the past and present.

How Our Brains Connect Us to the Past

Some people still scoff, to this day, at the idea that our past affects our present and future reactions. But there is actually a scientific explanation for how this works.

There is a part of the brain called the hippocampus. It is a component of the limbic system, located between the cerebral cortex (the thinking part of our brain) and the brain stem (the part that controls automatic functions, like breathing).

The Importance of Backstory: How the Brain Connects Past to Present

The limbic system, comprised of several structures and organs, is the emotional center of the human brain. One of the hippocampus’s most important functions, as part of this system, is processing memories.

And right next door is the amygdala, the part of the brain that feels anger and fear, and produces our instinctive knee-jerk reactions to those feelings.

The hippocampus not only processes memories—without it, we would have no long-term memory—but it also remembers the emotions (and the physical sensations associated with those emotions) of past events. Read More

Implications for Writers—The Importance of Backstory

First of all, we need to give our characters backstories that match their current neuroses. Any time a character overreacts (or under-reacts) to a situation in the present, there has to be something in their past that explains it.

Then, how do we show the reader that very important backstory…

Read More…

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to follow us, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

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“Off” Week Goodies for You

A couple little goodies for you today—two posts aimed at writers, but they have a lot of good stuff in them for everyone. One is by me and the other is by a writing coach and teacher, Lisa Hall-Wilson.

Her excellent discussion on shame, what it is and how to write about it, is on the blog, Writers in the Storm. Check it out: The 3-Act Emotional Arc for Showing Shame in Fiction.

The other post, by me, is about using writing to heal emotional wounds. One doesn’t have to be a fiction writer to do this. Blogging, journaling, writing bad poetry, etc. can be useful in facilitating the healing process.

Here’s the beginning of that post, and the link to read more if you like:

Writing To Heal

Writing to heal was what got me truly started as a fiction author.

Oh, I’ve always loved to write. I’d written quite a few stories through the years, plus some bad poetry, and I’d started more than one novel. But the inspiration for the first one that I actually finished, the one that would eventually become Book 1 in my first mystery series, occurred when a friendship ended abruptly.

The friend was a male lawyer with whom I’d shared a few cases—situations where one of my psychotherapy clients was dealing with some legal mess, such as a divorce. And over time, he and I had become friends.

And then we weren’t, and I realized I had seriously misjudged his level of mental health. After the friendship imploded, I thought, “Darn it! If I can’t have a healthy platonic friendship in real life, I’m going to create one.”

So I started writing the story, Multiple Motives, in which a female psychotherapist and a male lawyer are good friends, and someone has a murderous grudge against both of them. (That last part didn’t happen in real life. 🙂 ) Another thing that didn’t happen in real life, but does in the book, is that the bad things that occur in the characters’ lives make their friendship stronger, rather than destroying it.

Writing that novel helped me heal from the painful ending of that friendship. It fulfilled several of the purposes of writing to heal:

● Clarifying and venting feelings.
● Telling one’s story – being heard.
● Creating a different outcome.
● Finding meaning in the pain.
● Paying it forward – helping others struggling with similar issues and inspiring hope.

Clarifying and Venting Emotions—Why Is That Important?

In Multiple Motives, my character Kate realizes just how important her friend is to her, and then when he is in danger, she realizes what a black hole his loss would create in her life. As I was writing this story, as she was feeling those intense ups and downs, I was right there with her. It was quite cathartic.

But why is it that we feel better when we vent a negative feeling? READ MORE over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University.

And a slight adjustment in the blogging schedule. K.B. Owen will be posting next week as she releases her newest Concordia Wells historical cozy. I’ve read it and it is great!

And then I’ll be back on the 14th with Part II of my When Anxiety Is a Bad Thing series, talking about what can be done about anxiety disorders. (And I may have a new release to announce by then as well.)

So stay tuned, folks!

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to follow us, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.


To Write or Not To Write Short

by Kassandra Lamb

Someday is Here! book cover

I’m guest posting today over on Janice Hardy’s wonderful site for authors: Fiction University. So thrilled to have this opportunity!

I’m talking about the pros and cons of writing short stories/novellas vs. full-length novels. Please hop on over and check it out!

To Write or Not To Write Short:

Short stories, novellas, novels—what’s the best route to go as a fiction writer? Are there advantages to writing short?

This is a more complicated question than it may seem to be on the surface. There are several factors to consider:

● The definition of a short story vs. a novella
● The appeal of writing short for the author
● How readers feel about short stories and novellas vs. full-length novels
● The benefits of shorts for authors
● The bottom line: how much can you make off of shorts?

In order to give you more than just my take on writing short, I surveyed several authors from various genres. I’ve included their experiences along with my own… Read More