Back Story Gone Overboard

I haven’t blogged for a few days. I’m forcing myself to reedit Shadow Cat for the umpteenth time. But I’m finding some interesting things. One in particular is the need for back story. How much back story does a novel really need to keep it afloat? Not very much, I’m finding.

When I first started submitting to my critique group October 2009, I received comments asking if this is the best place to start the book. Another comments referred to driving the story forward.

I don’t know about other writers, but I put my heart into the background story. The characters come to life as I jot down each and every word which brought them into their situation. And I absolutely love the little bits. But does the reader need to know what my character did for the first 30 years of his life? Probably not.

So I’m stuck with trimming my baby. Breaks my heart to chip chapter after chapter from the front of the novel. YES! The front. Cause really, writers should start the story with the story, not the back story.

Now this may not work for everyone, but I’ll share how I find the start of my story. It’s really quite simple. Start reading from chapter 2. Is the story ruined? Can I make the entire novel flow by just adding a couple of details from the prior chapter throughout the rest of the novel? If I can, then I know I can trash the first chapter. <this is usually when I give a heartbroken sigh.> Onward! I rinse and repeat at chapter 3, and so on until voila! I hit the beginning of the book. The place where the action begins.

From there I can weave in the back story to fill in the blanks. But wait!!! Don’t go overboard with the back story. Only give the information the reader really needs to know to understand the novel. Word count is so important, don’t waste it on frivolous information. If he just came out of a rocky relationship, fine, mention it. But don’t give the nitty gritty details. And for Pete’s sake don’t rehash the whole thing in one spot, nor come back to it 50 times trying to drive the point home. By the way, who is Pete?

Anyway. Will I stop writing back story? Probably not. Why? Because it helps develop the character in my mind, and I think that’s important. I’ll just keep it to myself and bore the reader with all the dull details.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *