Friday, October 2, 2009

Avoid Backstory Bloopers

Stop dead in their tracks.

That is what readers will do if you begin your novel or short story with dreaded, boring backstory. If you want to ruin all chances of your novel breaking out, go ahead, be my guest. Dump all the details of your character's past and family history on page one.

Really. See how much backstory you can cram into the first couple pages. Who needs action, suspense or drama. Give me half a dozen paragraphs about how your hero came to be the person he is today. Better yet, describe in intimate detail his upbringing, complete with his favorite subjet in school.


OK, you may be saying. What about the novels, even bestsellers out there that seem to ignore this advice.

Truth is, once some authors prove to publishing houses and editors that they will pull in big bucks regardless of the quality of the story, you can only guess how quickly shoddy work gets pushed through the publishing presses. Fact: Sometimes current bestsellers are NOT the best teachers of how to write your own bestselling novel. It doesn't make sense on the surface. Not one bit. However, on deeper reflection it's sad, but true.

Here's how you can avoid backstory bloopers:

1. Avoid backstory in the first chapter of your novel, period.
2. Avoid backstory as long as you can. Drop it in as late as possible.
3. Now go back and move it farther back in your story. Move it one or two chapters deeper still.
4. If backstory IS essential, dole it out in bite-size sentences, not whopping paragraphs.
5. Condense the backstory as much as possible. Shorter is sweeter.
6. Mix backstory with current action, drama and suspense.
7. Make getting the backstory a scene goal, or somehow important to a character.
8. Surround the backstory with conflict and turmoil.
9. Make the backstory part of a shocking revelation later in the novel.
10. Now go back and move that backstory farther still in your novel!

Remember, the longer you delay giving backstory, the more interested the reader.

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