A few weeks ago, I wrote about how backstory should be seen as the scar tissue of your book. It is necessary. It will always be there, but we don’t need to explain it until the reader wants to know about it, or needs to know about it.
Beginner writers often become obsessed with backstory. If this happens to you, consider your readers and what they want.
5 Ways To Tell If Backstory Is A Threat To Your Book
- Readers like to move forward. Start the story when the most interesting thing happens and then tell the story chronologically. If the most interesting thing is your backstory, you could be writing the wrong book.
- Readers don’t want diversions. If your backstory does not match your main story, if it could in fact fit into a different genre, you should consider writing two different books. A good example of this is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. The second book was written first, but the editor saw that the backstory would make the better book.
- Readers want to follow a hero. I don’t mean a heroic figure. I mean that they want to identify with a character and follow that character’s story arc. If your backstory confuses this process, you may want to leave it out.
- Readers want the story to start. If a circuitous backstory prevents this from happening, you might lose your readers. It takes a talented writer to keep a reader interested in somebody’s biography. Especially if they have never encountered the character and have no reason to care about them.
- Readers don’t want to be swamped by too many characters. Backstory means introducing characters who may have nothing to do with your current project. Consider including them in another book.
Don’t be discouraged by this. It is common to want to include everything in your book, but it’s not a good idea. It’s also impossible. Writers often forget that they have the opportunity to write many books and having all this research and backstory could be wonderful material for a series of books.
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