Backstory as Character: COLD KISS

Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey is a Gothic YA novel published in 2011.

Glass Heart follows in the series.


What I find particularly well done in Cold Kiss is the backstory. The story follows the tragic misadventures of Wren, a teenaged girl who brought back her dead boyfriend Danny from the grave.
Using the backstory as an important element in a novel is always risky and often damaging to the story momentum, but Amy Garvey expertly weaved the past into the present and made the past part of the present.

Cold Kiss
Amy Garvey’s homepage.  Watch trailer here.



How did Garvey use the backstory?

First of all, the author spends a great deal of the novel reflecting on the aching of a lost love and how it transforms someone’s present life. She reflects on the importance of grieving and going full circle and the consequences of the avoidance of it. She also stresses the responsibilities of not letting go. That’s how she traces the character arc, her growth and shows the lessons Wren learns.

That’s also how she ups the stakes. Wren spends a lot of time struggling with the emotionally exhausting demands of her terrible secret and the lies she has to tell others and to herself. Hiding Danny is not a small feat. The more Wren gets conscious that she made the wrong decision by bringing back Danny, the more she has to lose. The more he stays, the harder it is to lead a sane, normal life, especially making and keeping friends.

Second, the author explains how the past changes the present. The past prevents Wren from being herself because if she lets herself go, her magical powers might destroy everything around her. This affects not only Wren, but her mother too who is a pale reflection of Wren. Even the picture of her dad dead ten years ago seems to push away any boyfriend her mom has. “Her boyfriends never last long. I wonder if they get discouraged when they see the picture of my dad on the mantel.”

Third, this story is compelling because the backstory plays a decisive role in the novel. The backstory is given the weight of a character. For example, the contrast between the living Danny and the dead Danny dramatically foreshadows the new relationship: “It’s getting harder to remember the way Danny used to be. That Danny wouldn’t have waited so patiently for me. […] That Danny had ideas, crazy, late-night fantasies…”
Danny will always be a shadow of himself, not the boy she loved. We understand right away that it’s time to move on even though Wren does not realize this at first. That makes the story even more tragic.


Backstory ghost
Find article here.

In Cold Kiss, Amy Garvey used the backstory in the way K.M. Weiland instructs us to use it. The backstory highlights the internal and external conflict, and up the stakes. The backstory also explains the present and adds to the present plot. The backstory plays the role of a protagonist and changes the cards for Wren. The ghost of her past weighs on her and makes it obvious that something is wrong, out of place, and tragically holds her back and causes Wren to make mistakes.

In this gothic novel, the backstory plays more than the role of explaining key elements in the story. In Cold Kiss, it creates the sense of dread and inpending doom on the character. The backstory is the antagonist. In my opinion, for its unusual and unconventional use of the backstory, Cold Kiss is worth the read.




You can read more about the use of the backstory is Sussu Leclerc’s website. Please, also follow her on Twitter.


Contrasting Parallel Plots: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES

An Ember in the Ashes is a young adult fantasy written by Sabaa Tahir and published in April, 2015.

The novel is one of the best novels of 2015:


This novel is a double narrative, but what really works well for me is the contrasting parallel plots.


How does the story work?

Sabaa Tahir’s homepage:
Watch trailer here.

Each chapter is dedicated to a main character in alternance.

When it’s Elias Veturius who speaks, we hear the voice of a Mask soldier who was raised most of his life at BlackCliff Academy, a place where merciless killers are made.

When it’s Laia talking, we hear the voice of a young inexperienced girl forced to spy on the Masks to save her brother Darin.

Both characters live under the same roof and rarely leave the Academy, and both want out but cannot escape the whirlpool of their destiny pulling them under.

Even if they are destined to love each other, Laia and Elias are two opposite forces that will clash along the way in subsequent books as their foretold destinies prove it: You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it.” “You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”

Because the story mostly happens between the walls at BlackCliff, it is mostly centered around these two characters and do not treat the political and social situation. The focus is personal, intimate, and a good look into the souls of two struggling individuals.

Elias is struggling against his doubts while Laia is struggling against her fears.

He wants his freedom while she wants the freedom for someone else.

He is a prisoner while she imprisoned herself by accepting to become a slave.

By Jon Oakley from Eaglescliffe, England (my new converse) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The dual voice or dual POV (Point of View) is treated like two different stories that would not cross unless a romantic element drew both characters toward each other. Both plots are weaved together like the laces on a shoe with the romantic encounters being the part where the laces meet. There is a smudge of Romeo and Juliet and a smudge of Spartacus.


But the romance is not the focus of the book because it’s hard to not grind our teeth at the unfairness of their lives and what they both have to do to survive.

The parallel plots work in harmony in the sense that both heroes have the same aspirations and go through a huge character arc.

But both characters contrast hugely with each other. Ultimately, while Elias is at the verge of losing his soul, Laia grows a new one. You have a soul [Elias]. It’s damaged but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you.” “When the fear takes over [Laia], use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible to fight it: your spirit. Your heart.”

Ultimately, if Elias rescues Laia physically throughout the story, she rescues his soul. What’s not to love? With this contrasting parallel plot, the quill of the author dipped deep inside the human soul. A formative read.



If you have enjoyed this article, visit Sussu Leclerc on her blog Novel Without Further Ado for more articles, and follow her on Twitter. Thanks.