I have a terrible time with backstories as I write my novels. Not coming up with them, oh no. I write detailed, lovely backstories, especially for my main characters. In fact, when I began this second book in the current series, I went nuts the first day. Six thousand words nuts, only to suddenly pull my head out of my… manuscript… and recognize that it was all backstory. I essentially did a 6k word writing exercise to get to know my main character. What could I do? I laughed, shook my head and put the 6k words aside for reference as I restarted the WIP.
As I write the WIP, I find myself digressing into telling backstory. Sometimes I discover I’m in a nebulous showing of the backstory. Is it necessary? Occasionally. Is it necessary at that exact point in the story? Occasionally. Did I mention I have a real problem with backstories?
Someone said a thing on Twitter within the last few days that has inspired me. (If you know the source, please let me know, either by comment here or directly to @jessrosenbooks on Twitter.) The imagery used has touched me and clarified what has been a snarled issue for me. I paraphrase:
Your backstory should be like a mirror. Shatter it and slip slivers of it into the story as you write it.
Isn’t that marvelous? In one swoop, the writer identified how little backstory is actually necessary within a story as well as how to convey it to the reader.
I face a challenge in my WIP. It’s second in a series set in a fantasy world. There’s a different narrator in each of the first person books. A certain amount of backstory is necessary. How much? Less than I’ve been writing in. I’ll find the balance with the help of the imagery above.
I’ve written since I was a kid. I never faced down the scary world of publication. Deciding to take it on this time is making me learn that my typical style of storytelling is all well and good, clever stories, but not written as well as could be. I love what I’m writing now – when I remember the rules. It’s so much better than it was. Learning how to handle backstory is just another big lesson along the way.