Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Backstory: How Much? How Little?

One of the ways we make a character come alive and seem real is to provide that character with a backstory—a history or background. What we don’t want to do is drop too much of the backstory on the reader at any given time and most particularly at the beginning. Too much too soon bores the reader and trivializes the story. Dropping tantalizing bits and pieces whets the appetite of the reader.

One thing to recognize is that you don’t have to be writing mystery fiction for a bit of mystery to be worked into the story. You do want to weave backstory in a subtle manner so you keep your reader’s interest and attention. Backstory also provides motivation as well as sympathy for the character.

It’s crucial for the writer to really know the character completely. For this reason, I always write a character bible which includes all the key characters’ descriptions and details of their lives. Only significant parts of this information will appear in the actual story.

For example, in my latest novel, DEATH PROMISE, we learn the real reason why Michelle Hallam refuses to commit to Daniel Reiner and why Daniel decided to become a psychiatrist. Their personalities have much to do with their unique backgrounds.

Backstory is only one aspect of character development, but it can be used successfully to connect the reader with the character on an emotional level. I’ll end with the following:

According to Writers Digest, “including too much of it (backstory) too soon can halt your story’s momentum. A good storyteller has no trouble thinking up rich histories for his or her characters. But a good novelist holds these details back, revealing them only at the time that best serves the story.”

Your opinion and comments most welcome!


15 comments:

  1. Great advice Jacqueline!
    Thanks for sharing
    Good luck and God's blessings
    PamT

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    1. Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Pamela.

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  2. What a timely post. I am working through edits on my first book to be published without my co-author and this is something I struggle with in my prologue. I combat information dumps, but try to enlighten the reader about what they should know before the story begins. I’ll have to navigate it carefully to make sure I don’t lose the reader before the story begins. Looking forward to Death Promise.

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    1. Zari,

      Beginnings are the hardest part to write in my opinion. Catching the reader from the start is crucial.

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  3. One of the pleasures of beginning a novel, for me at least, is uncovering the histories of all the characters. All of a sudden I have a plethora of riches. Alas, you're right about putting in too much, so I parcel out the details sparingly. But the discovery part is a lot of fun, and useful too. Good post.

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    1. Hi Susan,

      Parceling out the details is definitely the way to go.

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  4. Backstory: you make it sound easy to weave it into a novel in dribs and drabs. You also make it look easy. By the way, at the Friends of the Library annual book sale in McAlester OK last week, I purchased a copy of your Five Star book, DEATH LEGACY. It is in great shape. I have not read this one. After reading, I will place it in the Jacqueline Seewald collection section of my personal library.

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    1. Hi Sharon,

      Sorry to hear they are disposing of Death Legacy at your local library. I do hope you enjoy the novel though.

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  5. Your blog was helpful, Jacqueline. I'm struggling with taking the first 50 pages of my WIP and weaving them in rather than have them at the beginning. It's a challenge, but it needs to be done, since I discovered that the story really gets started on page 50. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Kathleen,

      I've often read that the novel should start in medias res, meaning the middle. We all have a tendency to want to tell too much from the start.

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  6. I agree abut they mystery of backstory revealed not all at once but in enticing bits and pieces. You certainly achieved that in DEATH PROMISE, which was a real edge-of-the-seat thriller. Nice and helpful post, as usual!

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  7. Susan,

    Thanks for commenting. I appreciate the fact that you enjoyed reading the blog and Death Promise.

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  8. Well said, as always, Jacqueline, and right on the mark.

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