The Olympics vs. Novel Writing

My son Daniel at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.
Why have most of us been glued to the Olympic games the past few weeks? Is it just because it occurs only once every couple of years? 

I think it's more than that.

We get pulled into the athletes lives. We worry about them. Their prospects, their injuries, their personal challenges.

We felt the incredible disappointment when Jordyn Wieber didn't make the all around in gymnastics. We cringed when Jen Kessy had to take a medical timeout from her volleyball competition to warm her freezing feet. We rooted for runner Oscar Pistorius whose legs were amputated at age eleven months and for Cullen Jones, who learned to swim after a near drowning.

We see (thanks to the media) glimpses of the athletes' backstory--but not too much. If all the coverage was about the athletes' history, and not about what they're accomplishing or attempting right now, the backstory would have little meaning. It's the slice of backstory that adds depth to the individual's character, adds meaning to their goals, and makes their victories and triumphs so easy to share.

How about your novel? 

Is it so weighed down by backstory that your character doesn't do much except think about the past? All the Olympic athletes wouldn't have made it to London if they spent their time agonizing over their challenges or the unfairness of life. Let your character be impacted by his or her history. Let it make them stronger, more vulnerable, more fallible, but don't let it consume them and keep them from moving forward.

Is it too free of backstory? A character who acts without any connection to their past, their baggage, their life lessons, is not three-dimensional. What if the media only covered what the athletes did in the 'now', and ignored what they've overcome to get to that point? Watching elite athletes win medals would be a whole lot less compelling. It's the emotion we watch on the medal stand that tugs at our hearts. Seeing the athlete realize success after so many years of hard work, deprivation, and focus pulls us into their story. Are you so fearful of including backstory that you miss this connection to your readers' hearts?

For more information on creating unobtrusive backstory, check out this series titled "Making Your Reader Love Backstory" by author and writing teacher Randy Ingermanson. His four-part series will make you a backstory expert.

Read through your manuscript with balance in mind. A balance between enough backstory to give meaning to your character's present actions, decisions, failures and successes. Have the Olympics inspired your writing in other ways?


  1. What a awesome analogy! That made absolute perfect sense and I cant wait to read that 4 part series. I've put it in my "to read now" list.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great analogy, and so true about balance in backstory. Thanks :-) Will be checking out the series, too...

  3. Great point about backstory! I'm like Daniel. I found myself watching a lot more TV while the Games were one.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, everyone. These are the things that blow through my mind when I'm falling asleep! Hope you all enjoy Randy's series. It helped me quite a bit.


  5. So true--that I worry about the athletes. Sometimes I'm even tempted to hide my eyes while they are competing! And you make a great analogy to backstory.

  6. It's amazing how easy it is to get involved in their lives!




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