Wednesday, 14 April 2010

You want back-story? I'll give you back-story!

Today, I'm planning to discuss some ways to add back-story.

First, the easiest way: have the narrator tell it. Doing it that way is easy and effective.
From The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehard and Avery Hopwood
That's it, the writer then moves on. So the back-story did its purpose - it explained why he was called the bat and then continued. She didn't go on about he night hours or why he didn't go out in the day... only what she needed.

The problem with adding back-story this ways is clear. It's not exciting or original - it lacks drama.
Let's look at another way to make it more dramatic and original.

Disclosure through dialog:

Here's an example from Careless in Red by Elizabeth George:


The key is - never let the back-story sound forced in dialog. Don't bring up things in the past if they wouldn't be uttered otherwise. When we're asked questioned about our past, we won't start at birth and explain our lives and what happened until this point... in fact, most won't disclose more than a line or two unless prodded. Do the same with your story.

Tomorrow, I will disclose other techniques.

17 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great tips as usual, Ann! I'm tweeting...

Laura Marcella said...

Thanks for this post. Very helpful!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Thanks for the tips. I’m looking forward to learning more on this subject as I’m not completely happy with how I’ve presented back story in my current WIP.

Margot Kinberg said...

Ann - I really like your suggestions! I tend to use dialogue for backstory, and that works well. But I'm glad to get your great ideas on how to include backstory in a narration without overdoing it. Always tricky.... And I'm tweeting this, too!

Carol Kilgore said...

Very good. Thanks, Ann.

Jm Diaz said...

Excellent post. I've actually started a new wip, and in it, there will have to be backstory. Like, a few generations worth, and I am banging my head against the wall on how I am going to present it. Will let you know what I come up with.

Thanks!

Saumya said...

This is so helpful. Thank you so much. Love your blog!

Jemi Fraser said...

Good tips - it's so important to not bore the reader. :)

Jen said...

Excellent tips!! I always love visiting your blog always great tips!!

Lorel Clayton said...

These are some great examples! Thanks!
When I write, I prefer to keep all that backstory in my head so it informs the characters' choices in the scene, but I never put in more than a few sentences of the stuff, and when I do, they're scattered thinly over the first few chapters. I remember it this way: Backstory = Boring.

TirzahLaughs said...

I could read the full examples, they cut off on the right edge, but I get your point. I hate a heavy handed backstory. I prefer getting it when I forget I'm getting it.

Tirz

Mason Canyon said...

Very helpful tips, interesting post.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Charmaine Clancy said...

Excellent examples. Sometimes I like reading backstory in the first style, it makes me aware of the narrator which makes me feel like they're reading to me :-)

Nishant said...

I really like your suggestions!
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