Character Backstories

Giving a character a backstory is essentially making them a more well-rounded character. It’s allowing your audience to get a better picture of who they are and what their motives might be.

Backstories are important to all characters – not just the main characters. Side characters, and especially villains, can greatly benefit from having a backstory of their own. It makes them much more real and grounded characters that have layers. Backstories allow you to write characters rather than caricatures. 

But how do you write a backstory without it coming across as cliche or an info dump? There is a trick. 

I like to think of a character’s backstory as an iceberg. You’ve got the top 5 percent that you see, while the other 95 percent is hidden beneath the surface. Much like Hemingway’s Iceberg Principle, if you tell the important parts of a character’s backstory, the whole thing will be easily inferable for the reader. 

That is why, it would be a good idea to write out your character’s entire backstory – just get it all out there on paper. However, the trick is to not take everything from the backstory and dump it straight into your novel. Be strategic. Give the audience only the important or relevant backstory pieces that will help to propel the story forward. Your protagonist being an introvert might not be as necessary information to the story as them being an orphan. But if you write their backstory well enough, the reader will be able to infer the bits that are left out. 

Basically, you should always make a backstory for your characters, but don’t feel the need to dump it all into the book. It is okay to leave some stuff out. That is what makes for a well-developed character. 

Author Interview with J.C. Murray

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview J.C. Murray, an author of the Dragons & Heroines anthology.


1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

If you had asked me when I was 12, I would have said yes. Back then I wrote what amounted to Black Beauty and Animorphs fan fiction and scribbled comics starring my siblings and me.

Something painfully practical took over down the road, and I majored in biology and worked in other fields. I returned to writing by accident. I got into table-top role-playing games, and found myself writing more character backstory and setting lore than I could use in a lifetime. Around 2018, I realized they were stories, and started quietly writing just for fun. In 2020, 3 months before the world turned upside down, I started taking it more seriously.

2. How do you come up with the titles to your books?

I loathe picking titles. I never feel confident they capture the idea in my head, or aren’t cliche. I write most stories with placeholder titles like “sad robot story” and invent a label only after the piece is finished by playing with ideas until something sticks.

3. Is there lots to do before you drive in and start writing the story?

Very much so, I outline. I can’t write until I know which dots to connect. I find the degree to which the writing community pushes the plotter-vs-pantser debate interesting. From listening to or reading author interviews, it seems that each writer’s process is unique, and the amount of pre-planning truly is a spectrum.

I pre-plan major plot points, but all the juicy details in between flow once I get started. So, I think the writer I am today is 70% plotter.

4. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I am very much at the beginning of my writing journey. I have one complete unpublished manuscript written in 2020, queried in 2021. I am revising my second fantasy manuscript inspired by the Bronze Age collapse about misfits on an adventure surviving the fallout of a crumbling empire. I will start querying that one in early 2022. I’ve written about a dozen short stories, of which Yasmine Learns to Fly is the second published.

Picking a favorite is so hard! They are all so different. If I had to choose, my favorite is the unpublished short story I affectionately think of as “Casablanca with Mer-folk.”

5. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

I am 90% sure I plan to take 2022 off from novels to focus on craft through short stories. Hopefully genre lit mag fans see my name pop up here and there before too long.

I’m leaving the door cracked open for a novel idea to sink its claws in and refuse to let go.

6. Who is your favorite author and why?

The last author I read, usually.

But, seriously, right now I am obsessed with Evan Winter (The Burning series).

Winter’s books are so intense. He writes clean, invisible prose about flawed people stuck in impossible situations. The Rage of Dragons is a masterclass of both crafting and conveying a magic system so the reader deeply feels the cost of accessing that power. Plus, dragons and demons!

7. Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.

I’ve hiked the first 100 miles or so of the Appalachian trail. I would love to go back and through-hike it one day.

8. What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

Wesley Chu. I recently enjoyed his Lives of Tao series. I find his brand of action-humor refreshing, unique, and yet somehow attainable. As a person with a career jumping back into writing in my late 20’s, I find his career arc (from I.S. technician to stuntman to author) relatable. Ok, not the Hollywood stuntman part, but for everything else, I’d love to pick his brain over a cup of coffee. How to balance writing and a day job, how to keep improving, etc.

9. How many bookshelves are in your house?

Six, all bursting. My wife is a painter, so she organizes the books on the main three in the living room by color.

10. Who is the author you most admire in your genre?

I deeply respect  N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth trilogy, The City We Became).

Jemisin’s writing is just so powerful. It’s beautiful at the line-level. She’s mastered hidden worldbuilding. She plays with stakes so well – her books are both deeply personal and capture that epic feeling we expect from fantasy adventures. On top of all that, she’s going to leave your mind a pile of mush as you chew on what you read for days after closing the last page.

She’s pushing boundaries in more ways than one.

11. Where can readers learn more about you?

The best place to chit-chat with me is on Twitter.

I blog about books I’ve read and general writerly thoughts on my website every Tuesday.

If you’re into that, you can see my blog posts interspersed with memes over on the Murray’s Bookshelf Facebook page or on Tumblr.

Tighten Up Your Story: Dealing With Filler

One of the problems with amateur writers is that they tend to overwrite their narratives. Some of the bigger and more obvious examples are involving new characters who are undeveloped and don’t serve much of a purpose, a side arc that is introduced, but never resolved, unnecessary scenes, and purple prose used for mundane scenes. Those are the big problems. The small ones are using words that carry little to no meaning to the overall prose or narration of the story. Certain words can be filler too. In today’s post, we will discuss filler words. Note: this is in regards to the narrative, not dialogue. If your characters speak using the standard sentence structure of 21st Century English, it’s perfectly okay for your character to say, “Next thing I knew, this guy suddenly slaps me in the face!” But I show you how this is boring in the narrative.

Why get rid of filler words when it’s just a word here and there?

Simple. Imagine your reader enjoying one of your action scenes of a pivotal battle between a knight and the renegade king’s guards. You write this:

Suddenly, the knight let out a scream as the guard’s blade struck out, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as he saw three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. The knight countered and the guard let out a dying scream as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

Abruptly, the knight heard the sound of boots thundering down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.

Bad Adverbs of Instant Action

Suddenly, immediately, abruptly, slowly, and quickly are adverbs of instant action. And they are useless. Pathetically, unequivocally useless. In the above example, There is a battle being waged. Of course, everything will move as fast as possible. So the words “suddenly” and “abruptly” are pointless. Get rid of them.

Verb + out = filler

Cry out, let out, screamed out, shouted out, are examples frequently used by amateur writers and even some experienced ones.

“…the knight let out a scream…” Why use this? Why not, “The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck”

“…the guard let out a dying scream…” Let’s replace with “…the guard howled his death throes as…”

I saw, I heard, I knew, I kicked butt

The words “saw” (and all its variants and synonyms), “heard,” and “knew” are useless words in about 99% of all cases.

“….the knight gritted his teeth as he saw three more men…” Replace with, “…three more men…”

“…the knight heard the sound of boots…” Let’s rewrite it to “The sound of boots thundered down the hall…”

Here are some more examples:

“Jack saw the man draw his gun.” Go with, “The man drew his gun.”

“Margaret heard a moan in the closet.” Go with, “Someone within the closet moaned.”

Let’s clean up our original example, shall we?

The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. He countered, the guard howling his death throes as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

The sound of boots thundered down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.  

Happy Writing!

Author Interview with Emily S. Hurricane

We had a chance to interview an author in the Love At First Sip anthology. The collection provides a drink recipe in front of the short story associated with it.


  1. What inspired you to start writing?

You know, I don’t even remember! I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote a lot of fan fiction when I was a kid for various JRPGs, so a lot of my early original stories were warriors in fantasy or science fiction worlds. I also did a lot of online roleplaying back then. I’m totally aging myself, but back on proboards, I’d spend hours with other users creating characters and worlds and then RPing our characters. So as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been writing.

  1. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

Two things: proper grammar, and engaging characters. There can be literally nothing happening in a story, but if the characters are interesting and engaging, then I am sold! I am a reader of many genres and styles, but what is most memorable to me is always certain characters and their inner workings and struggles. World building and act structure and everything else that goes into a story are important, but if I don’t care about the characters, the book falls flat for me. And of course, you know, it’s got to be readable.

  1. Is there lots to do before you drive in and start writing the story?

I’m a bit of a pantser, so I do most of my non-writing part of writing a story as I go. When I have a fresh plot bunny hop its way into my head, I tend to let it percolate for a while in there to take shape. It’s almost always a character, desperate to tell their story, so I let them talk to me for a bit. Sometimes I’ll make a few notes before I jump in, but often I like to get to know my character(s) before I try to plan where the story is going to take them, so I tend to just start writing.

I use Notion for all of my outlining and character sheets and planning and word count tracking, so I do set up a blank page for a fresh project. Any notes go in there, and then as I start writing, I create tables as I need them to track characters, potential plot points, outlining, etc.

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

I know this is totally cliché, but Stephen King is my very favorite. Aside from the fact that he’s incredibly versatile, he’s got this subtle style that I adore. Even some of his novels that aren’t outwardly HEY I’M SCARY just have this underlying sense of dread (for example, Duma Key) throughout and I don’t even realize I’m creeped out until I finish reading. He also has such talent for so many different facets of genre, with more boundary-pushing work like the Dark Tower series. He just does whatever TF he wants, and I admire that so much.

(Close runner-ups for favorite, though: Chuck Palahniuk and Margaret Atwood. Gotta shout them out too!)

  1. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

Time! There is just never enough time. I work from home as a freelance writer and editor, while also taking care of two small children and my husband who works outside of the home full time. Juggling all of this and also trying to do basic things like sleep is very challenging. I love a challenge, but some days it’s harder than others to fit everything in, so it can be stressful. But I love writing too much to ever do anything else with my life. It’s 100% worth the blood, sweat, and tears I put into it!

  1. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I don’t think I have any interesting writing quirks! I’m kinda basic when it comes to writing. I like to have coffee and munchies and relish the silence—when I can work without Peppa Pig or My Little Pony in the background, it’s so nice!

  1. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

Too many! My muse has no focus for genre, and because I enjoy reading in so many, I enjoy writing in them all too. I’ve got a ton of erotica shorts in various niches, a historical western romance trilogy, a dystopian werewolf series, horror anthologies, a fantasy/sci-fi series, some contemporary serials, dark romance serials, and most recently, I curated and participated in two anthologies, one erotica and one clean romance.

It’s so hard to say which is my favorite…I loved writing them all for different reasons. I think I’m most proud of Joy, which is a literary novella that currently lives on Wattpad. I originally wrote it for the Open Novella Contest, where it won a few accolades. Eventually I plan to let it breathe and flesh it out some, outside of the constraints of the contest. But I don’t think I can properly choose a favorite out of my books.

  1. Are you working on anything at present you would like to share with your readers?

I’m currently serializing a dark paranormal romance on Radish Fiction called Her Tyrant Alpha, and I’m having a blast with it! It’s a spin-off companion book to my Bloodlines series (which is dystopian werewolf with a bit of steam, but not romance), and the main character, Ashelin, has pretty much zero boundaries. It’s been a super fun ride exploring all of her inner workings, and also building more werewolf lore into the Bloodlines universe.

  1. What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?

I get asked this a lot, and my answer is always to just write! Write as much as you can. Even if you think it sucks. Hell, even if other people think it sucks. Don’t stop! Write every day. Even if you can only manage a sentence because you have no time, don’t go a single day without writing. Tapping that creative keg takes working the writing muscle, and you have to work it out every single day. It might be hard for a bit, but all good things are, and if you stick with it, it will get easier, and you will get better at it!

Sub-advice: don’t be afraid of criticism! Don’t let it get you down, and don’t let it stop you. If the criticism is useful, take what you need out of it to learn, and discard the rest, and keep writing. Always be writing!

Sub-sub-advice: track your word count. Even if you only write three words in one day. Use a notebook or a spreadsheet or a calendar, but record your daily word counts somewhere. This gives you accountability to make sure that word count isn’t at zero, but also you can watch yourself improve over time. And I promise you will improve!

  1. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

When I’m not writing or playing with my kiddos, I am either reading, baking, or crocheting. And usually two out of three at the same time, haha! If I’m going to be busy with my hands then I’ll queue up an audiobook so I can still read even if I’m puttering in the kitchen or playing with yarn.

I’ve been known to enjoy video games too, but with work and small children it’s harder to carve out time to really get lost in a game. I do enjoy building stuff in Minecraft with my daughter, though. Anything creative!

  1. Where can readers learn more about you?

The easiest way to find me is at www.emilyshurricane.com! I keep it up to date with all of my book listings, and if you click the Social Media tab you can find all of my socials everywhere across the internet (including my Discord server!).

How to Critique & Edit Your Own Work

First off, understand that the first draft of what you are going to write is most definitely going to cause you to cringe and want to burn it on sight. I would not recommend this since editing it is fairly easy, and there’s no reason to give your neighbors a heart attack with squealing smoke alarms. You will have times when your writing flows as easily as a beautiful river. You will face times when you have to force the writing out. There will be filler words such as “that,” grammar issues, lack of descriptive imagery, characters so shallow you want to cry.

The first step is to just breathe. Once your first draft is completely finished, set it aside. Lock it away if you have to. Don’t look at it for at least a couple of weeks. Give yourself time to catch up on reading, watching movies, and schedule that spa day. You can work on another project, even if it’s the sequel to the first draft you just finished. Whatever you do, do not look at the first draft until two weeks has passed. That’s fourteen days for those that are stubborn. You know who you are.

The second step is to read your draft as though you were someone else. It should be fairly easy now that you’ve set it aside for the past two weeks. Be brutal. Reading from another perspective gives you the opportunity to find the plot holes more easily, the shallow characters who were never mentioned again, and more. Take your time reading it over.

The third step is the grammar. Make sure there are no run-on sentences (average long sentence length should not exceed 25 words), your homonyms(to/too/two) are correctly used, etc. Grammar is essential to making your story readable and enjoyable to readers.

The fourth step is checking the tense throughout the story. This means the past tense, present tense, future tense. If your wording is off, it will be difficult to read and will give readers different ideas than what you’re portraying.

The fifth step is to read the entire story out loud. This can be tiresome, but if you can’t get through the entire draft in a breeze, neither can your readers. If the sentences feel awkward to say, this means they are awkward to read. Definitely go through this step repeatedly until all of those errors are fixed. Normally it’s something that can be resolved by switching a couple of words around or deleting a word.

The sixth step is to read the entire draft with all of the steps above in mind. Fix any lingering issues you see. Make sure to use the spell checker in whatever program you are using to write in.

Hopefully by this time, you have found and edited everything. A word of warning: just when you think everything is perfect and you hit publish, you’ll find errors you overlooked. Don’t panic, don’t pull the book off the shelves in horror. Calmly document all of the errors, update the document, and upload the updated version. There may be a limitless amount of times you have to do this, so just accept your fate.

In conclusion, that is at least five times you need to read your first draft in order to edit it. If you just exclaimed negatively over that fact, this line of work is not for you. If you don’t want to take the time to read over your own work several times, why would anyone else want to take the time to read it?