Remember that song by The Waterboys? The Whole of the Moon.
‘You know how it feels to get too high, too far, too soon…
I’m dickin’ around.
Here are three backstory problems as I see them:
1 Too much backstory
Are you trying to tell your reader too much, too soon?
Are your opening scenes like a Christmas turkey? Stuffed with so much information the reader feels woozy and nauseous?
Think about all the stories (books and films) you’ve loved over the years.
I bet they dished out backstory with discernment. I bet they kept you guessing for a while. I bet they lured you in and had you thinking, I’m not sure what this is but I like it!
It’s okay to pace it! You don’t have fill in all the gaps right at the beginning.
Take your time. Ease your reader into your story, into your world.
Save up some backstory, too. Keep some good bits up your sleeve. You need trump cards. You need surprise reveals. You do NOT need a confused reader.
Confused readers stop reading.
2 Not enough backstory
Ever read a story and right from the beginning you’re thinking WTF? You’re clueless as to what’s going on, who’s who, where they are and why.
Bloody hell. It’s awful.
It’s one thing to entice or intrigue a reader.
It’s another to make them feel like they’ve slept through the war.
Orient your reader. Slowly and confidently.
Provide enough backstory to lure them in and make them feel grounded. But only enough. (See problem one.)
This takes skill.
It takes courage, too. You have to trust your reader’s intelligence. That can be hard. We want our readers to have a good time. We want them to understand.
See problem one.
3 No backstory
If you give up on your story before you know it’s backstory,
your story will be dead in the water and there’s nought I nor anyone can do to help you.
If you declare your story FINISHED before you know the backstory,
Good luck with that.
Stories need backstories.
Even if you never reveal half the backstory
YOU MUST KNOW IT.
A story with a measly backstory will be thin, unconvincing, wan.
Probably muddled, too.
Now, listen to this:
You do NOT have to know the backstory before you start writing. You CAN figure it out as you go.
You’ll just have to do a bit of rewriting, that’s all.
But figure it out you must.
Because, once you’ve nutted out the backstory, you’ll see holes the size of Mack trucks in your story.
And you’ve gotta fix them, right?
When you know your backstory, OMG, you will feel like the QUEEN.
The power a solid backstory bestows on a writer is almost megalomaniacal (how’s that for a word?).
But it’s true. You will feel so IN CONTROL.
And you will have earned it, darling.
So, if you want to be a successful writer, keep your eye on backstory.
Do it for me.
Do it for you.
Do it for your reader.
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5 Replies to “Three problems I see with backstory”
Clear and convincing advice! I’ve just read a novel by a well-known author who lobbed a facial deformity midway through the story so the protagonist could have a nickname. Not nice all round!
Yikes! I’m surprised that wasn’t picked up during the editing process! Interesting!
I could name names but suffice to say it wasn’t an Australian author.
Thank you so much, Jen!! I love your style and what you’ve said is fantastic! I am writing the third book in the Grimsdon series: three books, four years apart in publication dates, so for readers who may pick this one up without having read the others, I need to add the backstory and what happened last time but do it economically so that the story makes sense but doesn’t bore those who know it well. Plus, of course, there’s new backstory! It’s such a juggle!
Oh, Deb! That’s so cool! And thank you for dropping by my blog, I was thrilled to see you pop up. xox