Monday, September 19, 2016

Where Do You Place Your Back Story?

A common problem I see with a lot of writers deals with where they put their back story for the characters or the story. Too often, the opening chapter or chapters are filled with all of this information the author feels the readers need to know. It is the belief that without this information the readers will be completely lost.

This is not true.

Author often do this because they need the information to build the story and understand the
motivations of their characters. For the readers, however, this information can often be on a "need to know" basis. We hold off on revealing that information until that moment that moving forward will come to a complete standstill without that information.

Providing that information all at one time slows the story down, especially when the author has dumped all of that information in the opening chapters. We want to get the readers moving into the action of the story early on. Creating an information dump such as this wears the reader out.

By holding off on that information, you can often build the suspense for the readers as well. This is simply planting the seeds for the events to come.

Let me give you an example.

I was just reading a story where the author had a heroine having to meet up with the hero who she knew in the past. They have been away from each other for a long time so this scene is supposed to feel a bit awkward. The last time they saw each other something happened and the hero just disappeared. This is where the author started unloading that back story. She proceeded to give us all of the reasons why he ended up leaving in the first place. It was his leaving that would be part of the conflict they had to work through in the novel to get to that happily ever after. But, now that we know everything in the opening two chapters, there isn't much more to reveal.

What the author could have done is simply left it with the fact that he left and she didn't really know the reason why. Taking this approach allows the characters to work through an additional layer of conflict. Not only do they have to resolve this new relationship after the past problems, but the heroine has to discover why he left. She may have even had other ideas of why he left and what she believed might have been wrong.

OK, it might not be the best retelling, but I think you can see where this is going to.

This is all information that the author needs to know to craft the story, but for the readers, we really don't need it. We want to understand why things are so awkward and together, with the heroine we can work through that awkwardness.

So, as you are thinking of why things happen in your story, always ask yourself, "How much do I really need to give away to the reader at this time? Can I hold off? Can I just do this with a hint and reveal more later?"

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