Tag Archive - Backstory

Handling Backstory in Dialogue in Your Opening Pages

So many new writers start their books with pages—even chapters—of backstory. They want to tell the reader all about the creation of their fantasy world. Or they want to make sure readers understand every nuance of Mexican politics in 1956 because it will be critical to the plot on page 103. They want to make sure the reader understands every feature of time travel or cloning in the year 2133.

Then their editor suggests that instead of including all this material in the opening chapters of their book, they should just reveal the backstory through dialogue. Aha, the author thinks, dialogue—of course! After all, dialogue is a great way to open in media res and cut to the good stuff. But instead of jettisoning their precious descriptions and explanations, they essentially put quotation marks around the same ponderous material.

Problem solved, right? Wrong.

None of your characters should talk like the narrator. And readers still don’t want a backstory dump—even in dialogue. Often the attempt to stuff backstory into dialogue results in long, tedious monologues instead of more believable two-way conversation. Continue Reading…

Too Little Backstory Can Be a Fatal Flaw

This week wraps up our look at Fatal Flaw #4—Too Much Backstory. Writers are admonished to ditch the backstory in their opening chapters, and over the past four weeks our editors have explained why.  They’ve brought to your attention all the violations of backstory dumps that writers often succumb to, for such passages bog down or stop the present action of a scene. (If you haven’t read these four very helpful posts, start with this one here.)

We’ve looked at the need to balance the important details, via dialog and narrative, so that backstory is “sprinkled in” with a few lines here and there in order to convey necessary information. This is the most effective and subtlest way to tell readers what you think they need to know, and often takes practice to get good at this technique.

The best way to get the hang of how to do this is to grab your favorite novels (preferably cheap paperback editions from a used bookstore) and a yellow highlighter pen and mark up all the lines of backstory the author includes in her scenes. Great writers will have a nice little sprinkling throughout, with maybe an occasional larger passage (a paragraph or two) when it’s needed and in just the right place. Continue Reading…

Backstory in Action

This week editor Robin Patchen tackles Fatal Flaw #4—Too Much Backstory. In this month’s posts, we’ve been looking at the pitfalls of dumping backstory into our scenes and showing ways writers might creatively introduce important information pertaining to a character’s past or necessary to understand the world of the story. If you’ve missed the first posts on this fatal flaw, read them here and here.

This month, we’ve been studying how to weave backstory into your novels. You’ve learned not to stick a bunch of backstory in your dialog, and you’ve learned to start your stories in medias res—in the middle of things. Today we’re going to tackle the subject of backstory in action scenes.

When you start your story in the middle of the action, you need to give your reader a bit of information about who your characters are. The key is to slip that information into the scene in a way that feels organic. When your scene has high action, sometimes that can be even more difficult. Continue Reading…

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