Backstory writing , for me, at least, is a tricky and challenging proposition. It’s a literary ball that I have to juggle while deciding how to insert it into the story I’m writing. If I do it well, the reader will barely notice that I’m including background information in a particular scene. If I do it poorly, the risk of losing my reader is heightened. To paraphrase Elmore Leonard, “I try to leave out the parts that readers skip over.”
Why do I even need to include a backstory? Who cares? Why can’t I just write the story and let it stand alone?
Well, if I’m writing a stand alone novel the backstory is probably optional. If I want a previous event to drive the story, I can write a prologue. I don’t write stand alones, therefore my books require backstory writing for the following reasons:
- It provides historical context and explanation based on events from previous books in the series.
- It adds depth and muscularity to the current story. Although I prefer the stripped-down writing style of an Elmore Leonard or Robert Parker, I don’t want to short-change my readers.
- It may entice the reader to read the other books in the series.
So, how do I write the backstory? Can’t I just write the damn thing and be done with it?
I wish. The general idea is to sprinkle elements of the backstory throughout the book, sort of like adding spice and flavor to a literary stew. I use the following techniques:
- Narrative exposition – Basically, I provide some detail and explanation of historical events that make sense based on the particular chapter or scene I’m writing. I use this approach sparingly because it involves telling rather than showing.
- Character dialogue – I enjoy using this approach because it provides information while adding another dimension to the characters involved.
- Internal dialogue – We all have our inner voices and dialogues. This is an intense and personal way for the character to provide historical detail while displaying a range of emotions.
This is how and why I write my backstories. Do I nail them? I don’t know. Read my work and decide for yourself.