Monday, November 7, 2011

The Writing Craft: Weave Back Story In

Last week I talked about back story and indicated that it is a two part series or post. If you missed it go here. Now how to weave it into the story.


A flashback is when the character remembers something in his or her past. Or when they re-live it if they are troubled. It may be done in a dream segment. Or it may be that a sight or smell sends them back in their memory and you as the writer take advantage of this style to share what has happened in the characters past.
In my epic fantasy, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, I used this technique when Missie was exploring a cave. Her fears were beginning to suffocate her and just the smell alone sent her to a scary memory of an incident in her childhood. How far along was the story by then? chapter six.


Another effective way to handle back story is through dialogue. However, this must be a natural discourse, not a lecture.


"I told you. I suffered terrible pain from my accident and as you know I had surgery. Now I am better but I am still struggling to learn to walk like a normal person and not like a duck."

What is wrong with that discourse? What is right about it?

The character is lecturing another character. "I told you."

The character is dumping information. "As you know."

If the other character already knows about the accident and the surgery then it isn't natural for your character to tell them about this again.

What is right? The use of humor.


"How are you feeling?"

"Better, not so much pain."

"To bad they didn't discover this injury when you had the accident. You could have sued for more money."

"Well, I'm just glad it's over now. I have to see a therapist though, so I don't walk like a duck."

This discourse is natural. One character is visiting the other and their discussion is in the present even though they mention her car accident which is in the past.

Next week we will cover the dreaded information dump.

Future post by request:

Riya wants to know how a writer decides on a genre since she reads in many different genres.
Alex J. Cavanaugh wants to know how he can add enough description the first time through.

Golden Eagle and Michael Di Gesu wanted to know about back story and information dump.  
Nas Dean wants to know about show don't tell.             

Please let me know in the comments if you are struggling with a writing challenge and would like me to cover it.

Is this post helpful?


Bish Denham said...

What we as writers know about our characters and their stories and what our readers need to know are two different things and it can be so difficult to figure it all out!

Good stuff here. Simple. It's usually the best.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Bish
Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi everyone:
I'm a little under the weather today, I'll be visiting you all tomorrow or the next day.

The Golden Eagle said...

Interesting post--and again, I like the example dialogue you used!

Mike Ruchhoeft said...

Good post.

Everyone should do a search for 'that, was, had' and others in their manuscript. I'm sure there is a list somewhere.

Knew and know should be on that list.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Golden, thank you.

Hi Mike, you're right. That is another post.

Thank you both for stopping by.

Jules said...

Wait... I have to live through this Flashback. :) Humor I understand and I believe it goes with anything.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Southpaw said...

Nice example. I hope you're feeling better today.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Jules, you're right about humor.

Hi Holly, thank you, unfortunately I have something rather serious. I think I will post about it.

Thank you both for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Ty Johnston said...

Great post! Working in back story is often one of the toughest elements facing a fiction writer.

I generally try to keep back story to a minimum, revealing little bits here and there.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Ty
I so agree.

Romance Reader said...

Interesting post.

If I come across heaps of backstory in the first chapter, it sort if throws me out of the story. But if it keeps giving hints...then I keep turning pages to find out the backstory!

Thanks Nancy, your example is great!

LTM said...

oh, I agree so much! Backstory has to be handled carefully, and my favorite way is through dialogue. But you're right. It has to feel natural. Not forced. Great points, Nan~ :o) <3

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Romance Reader
Yes, we don't want to throw our readers out of the story but entice them to continue.

Hi Leigh.
Natural is the key.

Thank you both for stopping by.