Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Beware Backstory Dumps

When I am reading stories, I am looking for stories that keep me engaged and keep me moving forward. As an author, you always want to look to the future of the story and not all of the material that led up to your book. I started thinking about this when a friend of mine posted this picture on her Facebook page:

Too often, authors are obsessed with the back story of their characters. In an effort to justify everything their characters say and do, they start to create these elaborate back stories. The problem is, this much back story often slows the forward momentum of the book, as well as adding additional elements that have to be fully explained for the reader. 

I often like to talk about this with a classic thing I see many authors do with their heroines. I frequently see heroines who don't want to get involved with the hero in the story at that particular time in her life. That part is fine. This is going to create a conflict between the hero and the heroine as they come to terms with different perceptions of their relationship and potentially their growing attractions to one another. But here is where the problem arises.

The back story the author comes up with for the heroine is over the top. We see abusive marriages. We see troubled family lives when they were growing up. We see husbands who cheated on them. The list goes on and on. While all of these issues certainly do make for drama, these are full story lines that now require the author to use up word count to explain the situation. That word count can be better used to fully develop the present day hero and heroine, or their current situation.

But don't we have to have a reason why she doesn't want to get involved? The answer is yes! But go for the easier solution here. Let's say she is opening a new business. She simply wants to focus her attention on the job now and doesn't want distractions. Maybe she just moved into town and wants to get settled before getting emotionally involved. Maybe this is just her personality. She has always been someone who takes things slow and is guided by rational thought and not emotions. 

In other words, we don't need to go over the top to create the reason for a character's behavior. Keeping things simple and to the point can be just as effective and keeps the story moving forward. 

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