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Northern Knights: Behind the Scenes

Okay, we’re going behind the scenes in the creation of Northern Knights, Book I in the Lord of Columbia Series. Today, I’m taking you through the journey of my three years of struggles while writing this book, which is unlike Swords of Destiny, Missing in Columbia (not released yet), Book IV, or the beginnings of Book V.

From July 2015 when I really buckled down and got serious with the plot until August 2018, when I launched the book on Amazon, Northern Knights went through more changes than the techno world did between the years 1990 and 2018.

All within three years, how about that?

This is an article less about myself and the Lord of Columbia Series and geared more toward budding writers who are working on their first novel in hopes that they avoid some mistakes I made that continually delayed the release of Northern Knights.

Backstory

Northern Knights contains more backstory than any of the other books and while backstory exists in each of the books listed above, they’re not in the same capacity as shown in Northern Knights.

The biggest lesson I can give to any author is to stop with the throat-clearing, which is a fancy phrase for using too much backstory early in the book, which is a common mistake a lot of novice authors make.

Novice authors believe the reader needs to ‘catch up’ as to why the book is at its current starting point which always occurs two to three chapters later.

It’s why a lot of writing coaches tell their students to delete their first four chapters; because the story always begins after chapter four.

This happened to me, and as I posted on my writing blog, My Freedom Flame, where you can find a fully detailed article regarding backstory, is that I ended up rehashing the hash.

In other words, I retold the entire backstory within the plot.

My recommendation is to allow backstory to occur through dialogue, within the actual plot, and not in someone’s thought bubble as they gaze into the mirror running a hand through their hair and admiring themselves.

You can always hint at backstory on page one, but to dedicate an entire chapter or even a paragraph will turn today’s readers off. Readers want and need action in the current story, not the story before the story. If backstory is that important, perhaps the book you’re writing should be a sequel.

 

Point of View

I used an omniscient point of view that was all over the place. I changed point of view within the same scene or within the same chapter without handing the reader a heads up.

Authors, do not confuse your reader unless you want to enter the old ‘so bad it’s good’ crowd, where it’s only good because readers will be reading your work and making sarcastic remarks to their friends and family.

These days, fiction has to be believable, and nonfiction has to be unbelievable. It’s what readers look for these days. And if you go back to any work of fiction you’ve read, you want to believe the work is occurring.

Didn’t we all want our Hogwarts letter?

Of course!

J.K. Rowling made it believable.

The same should apply to you.

So, just as you live life from your point of view and not someone else’s, you need to do the same in a book.

Why should it be any different from in real life?

The way you live your life, with your five senses plus a sixth sense in a book when it comes to seeing the point of view character’s thoughts is exactly how you should convey the work to your reader.

For more information, check out the article over on my sister site.

 

Dialogue Tags

Again, readers want works of fiction to be believable, so stop with the endless dialogue tags.

Give each character a distinct voice.

For Northern Knights, the reader has an easy time discerning who’s who.

Cain loves to swear, call people by nicknames, and make snide remarks.

Lira emphasizes every few words and is the word of reason.

Micah is the king of one-liners.

Rand has a passive voice.

The list is endless.

Even if the reader doesn’t pick up on voice, we still don’t need dialogue tags unless it’s necessary.

Too bad I didn’t learn this until I started editing Northern Knights, or else it would’ve saved me a lot of work early on.

It was always ‘he said,’ ‘she said,’ or something similar.

Worse yet, I caused further damaged by using tags such as ‘growled,’ ‘grunted,’ ‘groaned,’ and other similar tags. People don’t groan while you’re quoting them. People also don’t wheeze, sneeze, or cough while they’re talking. But I didn’t know any better at the time until I bought a writing course.

It took me a while to rid unnecessary tags.

So, how do you know who’s talking?

Use action.

When someone’s excited, so their excitement and don’t tell them. If their eyes light up then speak, you know the character is excited. If they’re jumping up and down while clapping, you also get an exciting vibe. If they throw their arms up, you know they’re annoyed. Chuck a book across the room? Angry. Collapsing onto a couch? Tired.

Explaining….my Thorn in the Side

I didn’t explain things once, twice, or even three times.

I explained things multiple times and after reading my first draft I grew annoyed with myself.

Readers don’t like being told things or having the same things repeated to them.

Again, think of yourself as a reader.

Heck, think back to when you were a kid. Did you like having things explained to you all the time?

What about these days at work and your boss is lecturing you?

The same goes for readers and it wasn’t until I was taught to resist the urge to explain did I find how bad my original manuscript was.

One day, I’ll show it off, but right now, I’m just warning authors that the single most annoying thing you can do is continually tell the reader why the main character is carrying out Action A or Action B.

Cain was led here because….

Cain is acting this way because….

Yeah, those early days of writing….those two lines were all over the place.

Continually describing characters characteristics, personalities, etc.

Describe through action and the reader will pick up. If Cain twirls a stray curl in his hair, the reader knows his hair has curls.

If Savannah’s core muscles are showing, the reader doesn’t need to be explained that Savannah’s entire body is toned.

When Cain makes a snide remark, the reader can pick up that he’s a bit of a cocky soul. We’re not saying Cain is cocky. When he plants his team’s flag on the opposing team’s logo and taunts throughout a game, we know his personality. We don’t need to say it.

The reader could tell Lira gets annoyed with Cain through their dialogue, not by me saying Lira was often annoyed with Cain but they were still best friends, as you see in some manuscripts.

 

Learn and Implement

I chose backstory, point of view, dialogue tags, and explanation as my four cornerstones for this article because they were my top struggles in creating Northern Knights and the primary reasons why it took a little over three years since starting my first draft to publish the book to Amazon.

Definitely take my advice to heart, beginning with inserting backstory into the overall plot and letting the reader in on it as they work their way through the book.

Pick one character per scene, per chapter, or ideally per book and stick to their point of view. Let the reader experience the story from their eyes just as you experience your life’s story from your eyes.

Use action and distinct voices to let the reader know who’s talking. Only use tags when clarification is needed. If you, the author, can’t tell who’s speaking, it’s time to use a dialogue tag if you can’t utilize a distinct voice.

And finally, your reader wants to experience and become part of a story, therefore they don’t need everything explained to them. Just like in real life, explain once and only when clarification is needed, just like when you’re on a job or experiencing something for the first time. Go for the experience, and not repeated explanation.

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38 Comments

  1. Jamaar sampson Jamaar sampson

    Love the whole process you put us through basically putting us in your shoes step by step! This is amazing keep it up!

    • More than a process, I can assure you, Jamaaar! They always say what happens behind the scenes is what counts! Definitely a fun challenge, though!

  2. Many great writing tips from a guy who has walked the walk. I especially liked the advice to write from your own point of view as you live your life. This information is very valuable for anyone that is writing a book, or is planning on writing a book. As a writer myself, I will bookmark this article so that I can refer to it when needed. Thanks for sharing this helpful information.

    • Thanks a bunch, Tom! I remember how hard of a struggle it was to write my first book and I’ve almost made it a life’s mission to help other writers learn what I’ve learned. It’s the ultimate pay-it-forward mantra.

  3. Kelli Heitstuman-Tomko Kelli Heitstuman-Tomko

    As an author myself, I can really appreciate the process, and particularly as you explain it here. It always seems difficult to explain to people that I spend months creating backstories, blueprints, even restaurant menus that will never make it completely into my story. They’ll just show up as pieces of conversations as my characters interact, but all that extra work helps ME as the writer know who is what and why.

    Great post! I think this is something that new writers hear all the time, and particularly from editors who talk about what they look for in a book. But I think it means more when it’s coming from the people actually writing the books.

    • It was a similar strategy I undertook and still undertake. It’s always a chess game to see what makes it into the plot and what doesn’t, but yes, the most difficult thing by far is explaining that writing a book is sometimes more than just writing a book; in a way, we’re creating seperate worlds, elements that might be mentioned on the fly in our plots but will never make it further.

      It’s one reason why I created the Neo Skyehawk Novelette Series. Many of the characters were mentioned in passing, but I knew there would be a lot of curiosity among readers. They also make awesome magnet and funnel books, which I’ll be writing about in future posts!

  4. I ‘m glad I came across your article today, as I’ve been thinking about publishing a book and putting it on Amazon one day. I was always conflicted with more so the process of starting it then ending it because once I get rolling, I can usually gain good traction. Its interesting to hear that you shouldn’t spend so much time on the backstory. There are many books I read that have an emphasis on it, but its true that many authors don’t spend their time there. Rather so why not include it in the dialogue right, as you mentioned. I will bookmark your article for future reference. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Michael, and yes, I remember trying to read some of those older books from another time back in grade and middle school that held a huge emphasis on backstory. Once upon a time, it was the thing, because TV was in its infancy, you had radio, but it was held to specific times, and of course, the internet was a long way off.

      When I first started writing Northern Knights I thought it was the way to go before I undertook Jerry Jenkins’ Writers’ Guild and I had to kind of work backward and insert the backstory into dialogue. Though I do feel I overstuffed it in Chapter One, it read a lot better.

  5. I love the structure of this site and I must say I’ll definitely use this again for future knowledge.

    • A big thank you, Justin. I literally just bought the domain name today after working the framework in the sub-domain. Big things are about to come and I’m excited to see that people are enjoying what they’re reading here.

  6. Carmeta1 Carmeta1

    Great job in writing your novel. Many beginners make the mistake of writing chapters too early and they end up having to write over a topic. Persons can take an example of how to write a novel from you. It will be meaningful and beneficial for those students who attending  college and university. Thanks for sharing! 

    • Todd Matthews Todd Matthews

      Hi, Carmeta, it would be extraordinary for those at the college level to learn some of these ways of writing. Those majoring in creative writing would especially benefit as they’ll walk into the classroom with confidence, head and shoulders above where they started. 

  7. Sylvia Sylvia

    I have to review my writing style a bit closer after reading your article about backstory and dialogue tags.

    I am not crazy about dialogue tags and I sense the reason why, because I find them mostly boring, don’t ask me why though, I still have to figure it out for myself.

    You certainly have some great information on the subject matter and I will take them under the advice.

    I have saved your site and will even contact you if I have further questions if this is alright?

    Thank you for sharing, appreciated.

    • Todd Matthews Todd Matthews

      Hi, Sylvia, definitely feel free to contact me if you’d like some advice. I’m in the pay it forward business when it comes to writing so I’d be more than glad to help writers achieve their goals. 

  8. usman gagi usman gagi

    Hi Todd,

    Thank you for sharing a little behind the scenes look regarding Northern Knights. This information is valuable for anyone that is writing a book or is planning on writing a book. It provides a little added motivation, too.

    • Todd Matthews Todd Matthews

      Hi, Usman. Usually I write more articles within the context of Lord of Columbia’s plot elements but every once in a while I sneak something like this in as a pay-it-forward method for writers and authors alike. I never could’ve done it without the Jenkins’ Writers’ Guild; it definitely made Northern Knights a smoother read. 

  9. I am not an author myself but I can’t but have such appreciation for the psychology you have to familiarize yourself with prior to writing a book. Thank you for all the tips, I plan on writing in the future myself, could benefit from your articles.

    • Hi, Sahar! I think many writers start off by just writing without dedicating time to the process, which is okay, as it helps develop creativity and motivates one to embark in the writing habit. I did this, myself. Once this art is mastered, one can then move into what I like to call the technical aspect of writing and editing. While there will be a lot of mistakes in need of attention in those coming months, I can assure any writer that seeing the process through is one of the most rewarding experiences ever.

  10. I always follow this blog for a reason you give quality advice, as I always say I am not a book writer but your writing strategies are very helpful to me as a blogger. loved this part “Again, think of yourself as a reader.” I like that you put yourself on a reader’s shoe. great work looking forward to buying one of your books soon.

    • Thanks, Zayac! While the bulk of my articles deals with Lord of Columbia updates, themes, messages, etc, there are a few times I love to sneak in posts like these that are geared toward helping writers. It gives them a little taste of Lord of Columbia’s sister site, My Freedom Flame.

  11. Dammy Dammy

    I read one of your posts in the past and I really enjoyed it and here you are again with another and it’s very interesting and enticing you always put up a very intriguing story taking us behind the scene on one of your best work yet it’s just astonishing the back story, dialogue tags, explaining Your Own point of view of the story is just Wow. The post couldn’t have been better very nice write-up great job. And I like the fact you’re also inspired by JK Rowling. Nice Post 

    • Todd Matthews Todd Matthews

      Thanks, Dammy! What’s ironic for this particular post is once upon a time, Northern Knights held a completely different look. After I invested in a writing/editing course, it totally changed the way I approached my work, even if it took a good eight months of editing!

  12. Thabo Khoza Thabo Khoza

    Again a great read here. I like the advice you are giving aspiring writers with your true life story of Northern Knights.

    I also have to say I love the part where you say a writer must use one point of view and I believe this is what creates uniqueness

    • Thanks, Thabo! Always great to hear from you. I definitely had to go through quite the process when it came to writing Northern Knights; I could probably write a nonfiction book on the entire process, but that won’t be for a few years. I never caught onto the point of view thing until late 2017, but when I implemented it, boy did my story read much better than the omniscient standpoint I previously used.

  13. Wei Wei

    I have never seen someone sharing the journey as a writer. I knew it’s not going to be easy but wow, that’s a lot of struggles.
    The tips you gave is very helpful. Looking at them from a reader’s perspective, I agree with every one of them.
    When I start a book, I love some back stories. But when that goes on and on and the main story just doesn’t start, I can loose patient and even interest in the book.
    I’ll come back to his post and definitely study it.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Thanks, Wei! It’s definitely not an easy journey, I can attest to that! Writing and editing Northern Knights took the greater part of three years, but it was worth the time, struggle, and sacrifices. And yes, I remember when I was younger that when a story started with loads of backstory, I had to put it down for something else. Revealing just enough backstory spread out through the work was my toughest challenge and while a good bulk of it still appears in Chapter One, it has done so through dialogue, which for readers will help keep the story moving.

  14. Tom Tom

    Hey,

    I love your reviews and advice.

    I’ve mentioned before that I am an aspiring writer and I need to build more discipline in my writing.

    How do you remain motivated and disciplined when writing?

    Tom

    • admin admin

      Hi, Tom, I basically just take it one day at a time, or better yet, one hour at a time. I divide my gigantic task into subtasks and go from there. Break the job down into several small ones and the rest is ease.

  15. Vapz Vapz

    “Allow backstory to occur through dialogue, within the actual plot, and not in someone’s thought bubble as they gaze into the mirror running a hand through their hair and admiring themselves”…….I laughed so much when I read this part. It’s such a sorry cliche!!! 

    Wow, what can I say, you not only took us behind the scenes of Northern Knights, you gave us serious lessons on how to improve our writing skills. You had to buy a writing course to know most of these things but here you are, giving out the information, impacting your knowledge to us for free. Thank you so much, I’m sure that a lot of newbies have learned quite a lot from this your recount of behind the scenes. I wish you all the success you crave, deserve and more. 

    • Todd Matthews Todd Matthews

      It definitely is a cliche, I can tell you that. And yep, after the initial investment I made at the Guild my writing improved substantially. Words can’t express how much it changed and for the better. I strongly urge it to all budding writers and the info I provided here is just a sliver of what the Guild can offer. 

  16. Louis Louis

    Enjoyed how you took us through what I could call “your evolution”. Letting us into the background and how much effort you put in, before delivering this thrilling work of art. 

    The tips you’ve given here can be really useful to a novice writer. After reading your post, even I would want to learn about writing from you. 

    Have you thought of writing a guide for newbie writers? Or do you already have one?

    • Todd Matthews Todd Matthews

      Hi, Louis, I definitely target novice authors and writers since they’re the ones most prone to mistakes yet young enough that they aren’t set in their ways. I would love to write a guide and even create an online course a few years from now to help novice authors, especially those going indie. 

  17. Sammynathaniels Sammynathaniels

    Believe me, it has been very hard for me comprehending this whole stuff. I wasn’t getting the hang of it but then I came across “J. K Rowling” and I remembered her Harry Potter books. She really did a good job. One of the best fictions I’ve read that was adapted into a movie.

    Moreover, I agree that the backstory is important to readers and keeping it minimal as possible is important too but I don’t think a chapter or paragraph is too much. Some writers howeve tend to spill the backstory little by little across the whole plot. This introduces a special kind of suspense and I think it is very effective.

    I would love to read one of your novels. I would really love to see how you implement what you’ve said here. 

    With regards,

    Sammy.

    • Todd Matthews Todd Matthews

      Thanks, Sammy, the fact so many new authors, including myself once upon a time, place so much backstory into a work is because they have an urge to explain everything without trusting the reader. I’ve always stated if the author gets it through minimal explanation, the reader definitely will. If it looks murky to the author, it’ll look murky to the reader. 

  18. Timo Timo

    Truly revealing article on writing, proving you don’t know what you don’t know! Never having thought much about what goes into a well written book, it was very interesting to see the challenges from the authors own learning experience.

    Your tips on the voice used meminded me of how we speak sometimes when we stand in front of the camera for a video, it takes time and practice to be natural and speak in our own voice. Do you recommend a particular writing coach or resource that has been useful?

    Thanks for sharing your experience writing your first book- worth the read!

    • Todd Matthews Todd Matthews

      Thanks, Timo! It takes a long, long time to find our voices, even in writing. Years, perhaps. I love Jerry Jenkins and Joanna Penn among others. They’re proven authors, and while Jenkins is traditionally published, Penn is indie, like I am, so whichever path an author takes they have an arsenal. 

  19. Marshall Marshall

    The first chapters of such novels are always my problem, because what I’m willing to read about has not started so I get bored of it. Thanks for the insightful explanation. If you can read and follow all the salient points, you will definitely end up writing a good book. 

    • Todd Matthews Todd Matthews

      I think the same, Marshall. The problem is so many novice writers will get into a bad habit of overflowing backstory into the first few chapters, which are crucial as to whether the reader decides to read further. 

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