Colouring in the background

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When writing a novel, there is a lot of work that goes on in the background. Things that the reader never usually sees. This is even more so for a series like Bremmand Chronicles where, as well as having backstories and context, you also need to maintain continuity between books.

It is easy to feel that these tiny details don’t matter but an astute reader will notice where things don’t mesh correctly and feel distracted by it. The aim for any writer is to create a narrative that is so attractive that your reader will be immersed within it, so anything that jars and brings them back to the rea world is undesirable. Any Harry Potter fan will know this from the case of Marcus Flint who appeared in Goblet of Fire the year after he should have left school. It can be explained away (and it was) but it is always better for it not to happen.

So how do I manage this particular writing challenge? In truth, for me it is partly about planning and partly about organisation.

Planning of the next novel will include an element of planning some of the background information I need to include. For Line of Duty I had to decide on the general lie of the land in Bremmand, how the Empire operated and the political system in place. With Twelve Moon-Cycles the workings of the military and the religious festivals. And for Balance of Betrayal the hierarchies and political structures for both Bremmand and the Empire were needed. In the outlining of the plot, I made a note of these and then worked out what was needed. Some research was needed. I borrow from various historical cultures so I would look into what might be realistic and then adapt it to my own needs.

All of this is done with the specific novel in mind but also those that have been before and those that are to come. It is quite easy to paint oneself into a corner so an eye to the future is always worthwhile.

The biggest tip with working out backstory in this way is to only detail what you need. Creating masses of detail about extra things takes time and, the prescriptive you are, the less you can adapt it later if some brilliant idea pops up for another novel.

Once I’m writing, backstory all comes down to organisation. Some may say I’m a bit of an obsessive about it but I keep copious notes on what emerges in my writing. I have a database of characters, so I know what names I’ve used, what they look like, ages, personally histories and so on. Any character I use, I record – usually as they emerge within a book – so that, if I choose to use them again, they are consistent. Small details are treated similarly. I have a spreadsheet of items and the prices paid for them; hand-drawn maps of towns and cities; a document making note of how time is told, snatches of religious texts and all sorts of things. It all helps to make sure I know what is going on in my created world and use it correctly for every novel.

I’m working on Age of Oppression now and the main backstory planning seems to surround one of the sub-plots, in that I have had to work out just how far the Governor of the territory is going to go in defying the Empire and seeking his own aims. Much of it will never appear in the book (not this one at least) but I know it will come in handy for the future…

Cate Caruth is the author of the Bremmand Chronicles. To buy her books or learn more about them, go to

You can follow Cate on Twitter at

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