How Much Backstory is Too Much?

How Much Backstory is Too Much?

Too much backstory can bring a story’s pace to a standstill, bogging it down in insignificant details of a character’s past, world-building elements, or history of the current conflict.

It supplies information outside the scope of the story the reader does not need to know and often leaves little to the imagination.

It steals all secrets and surprises, leaving the reader to drown in boredom because they already know everything ahead of time.

But that doesn’t mean all backstory is bad.

In fact, far from it.

Backstory used appropriately can tease the reader into wanting to know more about the characters or setting.

To turn the page in anticipation of what might come next, thus increasing the tension and suspense just before revealing a big secret.

However, it can be easy to go overboard because we want the reader to know everything we know.

After all, we must know our characters and settings inside and out to bring them to life for the reader.

And we don’t want all that hard work to go to waste, so we try to shove it all onto the page, even when it doesn’t belong.

But not all of what we create is meant for the reader.

You might love the idea your character received her first kiss from a stable boy at the age of sixteen.

But if the stable boy is never going to make an appearance in the story, or you’re not writing romance, then it just doesn’t have any purpose in being there.

The readers only care about what affects the characters now.

If a piece of the past affects the present in some way then, by all means, include it.

But if it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t be included, no matter how interesting it is.

Humans tend to live in the moment and plan for the future when they can.

Nobody ever relives the past unless a conversation or something in their surroundings trigger it.

If we keep the focus on what is relevant to the story at that moment, readers will be surprised and captivated as further details are revealed.

Doling backstory out bit by bit creates a sense of anticipation and can leave the reader dying to see what happens next.

We can do this by hinting at the character’s past through how they relate to the setting and the people around them.

We all act and react differently based on our personal beliefs and experiences.

Use the character’s backstory to make their motivations feel natural and keep the story flowing.

Backstory should only be included when it affects the current scene or the characters’ actions or reactions.

And each character will react differently when they learn of another’s past.

Backstory can be a driving factor in the motivations that make up the story. Put it to good use.

FOR FURTHER READING

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Renea strives to help writers develop the focus and skills they need to finish their first novel, offering writers practical writing advice they can apply one step at a time.

She is the author of Conquering Writing Pressures: Living a Balanced Writing Life in a Busy World where she helps writers find the courage to accept life will never be perfect. And if we want our dreams to succeed, we must fight to make them a reality.

She currently lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband Joe, her three children, and her five lovable furballs.

From a young age, Renea was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she read in the ninth grade.

She is an avid reader, with her main interests residing in history, mythology, and fantasy, along with some romance and science fiction in her earlier years.

When Renea’s not writing, she enjoys genealogy, role-playing games, and dreams of traveling the world. In a past life, she plucked chickens and milked cows.

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One thought on “How Much Backstory is Too Much?

  1. Pingback: How to Flesh Out Our Stories Without Sacrificing Quality – Renea Guenther

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