Back story is difficult. It’s essentially what the writer wants you to know about their character – the who and why – but what the character them self doesn’t get the opportunity to tell you.
Some writers and editors say cut it out altogether because it’s telling (not showing) and interrupts the flow of your story by taking readers out of the action.
I’m not of that view, but if you’re going to use it, here are some ideas on how to make it most effective:
- Break backstory up into short paragraphs or even sentences such as asides. That way you’re inserting interesting tidbits as the story moves on rather than great chunks of history that make readers fall asleep, or worse still, put your story down for good.
- Be sparing. Decide what it is you really need to say about the character. This way you can pare back four paragraphs of backstory into one concise, powerful and to the point paragraph or less.
- Pace your backstory so it’s eked out over the entire story rather than appearing in one chapter early on, which is a real trap. That way you’re using it to build and reveal character slowly.
- Also ensure a balance between backstory and the present moment. Backstory should be used sparingly. Did I say that already?
- Link backstory to action. Maybe your character is having a crisis of confidence so you flashback to an incident or summarise their family history to explain where this behaviour came from.
- Ask yourself if instead you can include backstory by having your characters say something to another character. That way the reader learns about their history but in the context of the present moment.
- Make backstory in deep point of view, not authorial. It needs to be in your character’s voice with their emotion so it’s meaningful and not a history lesson.
I’m off to cull and disperse more backstory in my MS. Good luck!
I’ve been tussling with this one for a while. Some people are happy writing when the mood takes them and produce plenty of work they’re satisfied with. Others find weekly word quotas work for them. I thought I was one of those people. But if that’s the case, why did I struggle to get back into my manuscript after a weekend break?
Over the last two weeks I’ve attempted to write every day, which I largely managed except for one day. Here are the things I discovered:
- Writing is a committed relationship
When writing a story, whether fiction or creative non-fiction, it’s as though you’re in a long-term relationship with your characters and story. By dedicating daily time to spend with your work you’re remaining connected. That means it’s easier to pick up where you left off the previous day. Your work is fresh, alive and growing, like a plant you have to water daily for it to thrive. Also, the characters and story stay with you, which means you’re more likely to be working on them at a subconscious level. It’s all about maximising your flow.
The other point about writing being a committed relationship is that if you treat it well like you would a loved partner, your writing becomes less like work and more like fun. With your story and character connection strong, you’re happier to nurture and spend time with them. This has to be a productive thing.
- Set time aside, even if you don’t write
By setting time aside every day, be it half an hour or two, you’re allowing the possibility of writing to happen. You’re receptive and open to the possibility, like you’ve put the kettle on or wine bottle in the fridge in anticipation of a good friend’s visit. This is about giving your characters permission to speak and allowing your story to move forward as it needs. Perhaps they don’t turn up on the day, but by creating the space you’re extending a welcoming hand. You never know what might happen.
- Form the habit
There are loads of myths out there about how many days of repeating something it takes become you form a habit, but my research showed the correct number is sixty-six. If writing becomes a habit, you’re more likely to do it regardless of your mood or circumstances or other forms of resistance. Do first, think later.
- Write little and often
You’ve probably heard the maxim that goes something like, ‘Don’t write a lot, but write often’. I’ve been doing a lot of this—an hour’s writing, half and hour of something else, another half an hour of writing and so on. For me it takes the pressure off having to sit down for hours, taking on large chunks of work, big themes and major events etc.. I can attack my work in bite-sized pieces and come back refreshed and willing to write the next bit.
- It feels better
Writing is an outlet and a purpose, and on the days I write I simply feel better. I feel more me, more grounded, more satisfied. I’m not sure I’ll write every day, but most days seems to work well for me at the moment. Try it for yourself.