5 Ways to Share Backstory

Hi everyone, I hope you’re all well. Today’s post, as the title so subtly hints at, is about backstory.

Backstory can be tricky and many new writers fall into the trap of giving a reader too much too soon.

Understandably, as writers, we want readers to grasp everything about our story immediately, from the characters we’ve created to the world in which they live. We don’t want our vision to be misinterpreted. However, dropping too much info, in the beginning, can lead to information overload or an info-dump, which can stall the story. So to help, here are:

5 Ways to Share Backstory

1 – Through Dialogue
Dialogue can be an excellent way to convey a character’s history little by little. As the story moves forward, the writer can pass bits and pieces of information between characters as they’re speaking to one another. For example: –
Katie and Steve stepped through the front door of the little old house with its facade of peeling white paint.
“This looks just like the house I grew up in,” said Katie, “out in the sticks, where nobody could hear us screaming.”
“That’s probably why your father moved you all out to the countryside,” Steve reasoned as they moved from room to room, “if there was nobody around to hear his drunken ranting and your mother’s yelling and screaming, then there’d certainly be no one around to intervene when things got too rowdy.”
“Yeah,” she said, “he didn’t like anyone getting involved.” –
In this simple piece of back and forth, you can see how it’s easy to drip-feed backstory through the conversations being had between the main characters.

2 – Through Description
Description can help in a similar way to dialogue. For instance,: –
When Katie and Steve Pulled up to the little old house with its peeling white paint and shuttered windows, Katie shuddered. It looked just like the house she grew up in. Similar location too – out in the sticks where nobody could hear her drunk of a father being awful to her mother while Katie and her brother watched from their hiding place under the dining table. Even the rickety garden gate, with its flaky white paint and rotting wooden slats felt familiar. –

3 – Through Character Actions
How a character acts or reacts in certain situations can play a role in conveying backstory. For instance, if we continue on with our ‘Katie and Steve’ example from above, you could use something like this: –
As Katie wandered through the old house she and Steve had just purchased with the money her father had left her, she couldn’t help but imagine what life here might be like. Would they be happy? She hoped so.
As she moved through to the dining room, Steve headed upstairs, each step creaking and groaning as he went. As each distressed panel of wood protested against his weight, Katie felt herself shudder. She shuddered whenever anything creaked be it a floorboard or a door. She just couldn’t help it. As a child, that sound had meant she had to be fearful. it meant that she needed to grab her brother and get out of the way of the wrath of their warring parents. –
We can use the physical action of shuddering as a callback to earlier times in Katie’s life, helping to flesh out the character’s backstory.

4 – Through Knowing Your Character
The best way – and really the only way – to be able to convey good and – at the same time, a substantive backstory is to know your character’s lives inside out, including their pasts, presents and futures. Creating a character outline can help here. You can plot out each characters’ individual histories and cherry-pick the parts that are most relevant to your story, scattering bits and pieces as you go.

5 – Through Relevance
Sharing only what is important is the key to not overloading or even boring your reader. Information that is unnecessary and has nothing to do with your plot will only serve to make your story appear clunky and a reader will likely put it down and read something else. Backstory can be an integral part of a character’s development and it is important for you, the writer, to know every last detail of it, but it’s essential that you use only what is relevant so that the reader stays interested.

As always, thank you for reading my words, I hope this is helpful in some way.

Until next time,

George

© 2020 GLT



Categories: Writing Tips

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