What is it? The dictionary defines 'backstory' as:
'The experiences of a character or the circumstances of an event
that occur before the action or narrative.'
Once told that if my story was good enough it shouldn't need back story, I seem to fail every time! I believe that backstory can add depth to a character or a plot but the secret is how to write it without slowing down the story. And that's my problem. When reading, I have noted how experienced writers have introduced backstory - using alternate chapters written in different times, dual narratives, bringing backstory in through dialogue, reading letters or diary entries. When I received a rejected story back from an editor this week, I knew it was the backstory that let it down. It needed to be included because what had happened in the past to the main character, Amy, had a direct influence on the type of 'super woman' she was trying so hard to be but I'd ended up doing too much 'telling' and not 'showing'. You've probably heard it said that what we leave out is as important as what we leave in was a comment in the feedback.
On my recent holiday, I did start a story set in Greece about a girl who travels there after following her mother's instructions to read her diary. I thought that I could tell the backstory of her mother's life in the early seventies through the diary entries. But, guess what? I'm bogged down with too much detail and the story has slowed almost to a stop. So what is the answer?
When searching for some images to illustrate this post I came across this wonderful picture, entitled 'Backstory', which in turn led me to a blog post by Roz Morris . Her blog is called 'Nail Your Novel' which she describes as 'a diary of writing tips as I tackle challenges in my own novels and help others to shape theirs, plus all the latest news about my books.' I found her post 'How to wield backstory with panache' really useful and recommend it to you. She goes through a number of points and explains them with examples. Her main advice is to make backstory part of the action, leave it as late as possible and to use it to bond characters together (where the backstory is important to both characters).
Where do I go from here? I shall look as my rejected story again and see whether I can prune a lot of the backstory. Maybe I'll be able to keep the part which affects the two friends, Lauren and Amy, but introduce it in smaller bits rather than in a 'pouring her heart out' scene as it was in the original story.
How do you use backstory when writing? Please share any tips that have worked for you. Thank you for reading.
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P.S. Do you remember last week's blog post was all about setting? I've just read an excellent blogpost by Janet Gover on Women Writers, Women's Books. It's called 'Location, Location, Location' - worth a read!