Backstory




"Writing backstory feels like storytelling,” says New York Times bestselling novelist Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), “but it isn’t. It’s regurgitating facts or dolling up aspects of world-building—basically plugging in what that author already knows, hoping it will entertain and enlighten the reader. Instead it has the opposite effect. Less is more. Backstory is like creating a ‘connect-the-dots’ picture—you just need the dots. The reader will draw the lines.”


I’ve been thinking about backstory in novel-writing. So, to remind myself, here are some thoughts I've picked up on the internet.

Too much backstory in the opening pages can be a turn-off.

As we begin writing, we’re grounding ourselves in the story, exploring our characters, creating their histories as we discover who they are and what they want. These early writings are a crucial part of the process. As authors, we need to know everything that came before and why our characters act as they do. Our readers, however, do not. Answering their questions too early and too easily takes away a large part of the incentive for them to keep reading.

 A good opening sets the scene, introduces the characters, and sets the story in motion. What it never does is answer the question, “Why?” Why the characters behave and think as they do, and how they came to this point in the opening are questions that will be answered throughout the book.

Good storytelling has nothing to do with what the author wants to say, and everything to do with what the characters need to say. As authors, we don’t speak in our own voices; rather, we’re speaking for our characters.

 

 


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