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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Okay, so maybe I was wrong...


Apparently there IS black and white in fiction writing. Well, not exactly, but I did find it interesting that shortly after I wrote my last post about how there was no black and white in writing, I came across this post by Jeannette Cezanne on the Beyond The Elements of Style blog. If you happen to click over, you'll read all about black and white in her sidebar.

Anyway, Jeannette's post has nothing to do with black and white. It's about backstory. It's short and does not give a lot of information, but it does mimic a comment from one of my readers, Angela Ackerman, on my initial post on backstory. Here's what Angela has to say about backstory:

I think the trick with backstory is to look at it as .
'hooks'. Dole out tiny bits that get the reader asking more questions and make them intrigued enough to keep reading.

Backstory also has to tie into the current action. For example, the backstory event in my books opening is that the mc recently had a drowning accident. How can I get this info out without a ton of pace killing telling? Make her first scene in a bathroom with her little brother, attending a toilet send off for his beloved fish. The dead fish in the water is a natural trigger for her to relive what happened to her, and so when it comes out, it isn't dumpy, but hooks the reader along to find out what exactly happened.


This comment made perfect sense to me. Backstory should be there to draw the reader in, not push them out of the story. When put that way, I do think there is some black and white truth to this. It's not exactly a rule. It's a logical guideline. Every writer wants to draw the reader in. Looking at backstory as "hooks" as Angela said, can help you to include it at the right time in the right amount. Jeannette's post that I mentioned at the beginning here, says almost the exact same thing.

So, do you have any examples of backstory hooks?

13 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Not off the top of my head.

I agree, backstory should be there for a reason, and most often that is to keep the reader reading. I like the concept of it being a hook. :D

Laurel Garver said...

Backstory used to raise questions "as a hook" so to speak can be very effective. I've also seen books where revealing bigger chunks of backstory late in a novel can be used as a "payoff" of clues dribbled out slowly. Think of Rowling's reveal of the Snape/Lily backstory, near the very end of Deathly Hallows. It makes you reread Snape's character entirely--so compelling!

Patti said...

I agree with Angela, back story shouldn't be filler, but needs to help move the plot along.

I had a whole chapter (a prologue) with back story. I loved it, but in the end I realized I could disperse the information throughout the novel, which I think was way more effective.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Angela Ackerman is a writing GODDESS!! Seriously, she is amazing. I'm not at all surprised by the brilliance of her backstory insights. :-)

Carol Riggs said...

YES, definitely. Actually having the backflash relate to the scene makes it much more logical and palatable!

Ara Burklund said...

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor is full of them. And talk about doing an amazing job with backstory! Shows that it can definitely be effective.

Jen Chandler said...

Excellent example of what good backstory is and what it should do. Thanks for sharing that comment!

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (oldie but goodie) is peppered with backstory throughout the first couple of chapters. The reader is really able to understand where the main character is coming from, why she's having so much trouble in school, and the source of her anxieties at home.

Happy Thursday!
Jen

Christina Lee said...

GREAT example, Angela! Definitely coming out with it in little tidbits is the best way to go! And takes practice :D

Mark Noce said...

I agree a 110%, but unfortunately it's hard to do. I constantly find myself editing out back-story from my drafts. There's just so much to tell about a character:)

Name: Holly Bowne said...

That DOES make total sense! I hadn't thought of the backstory as a hook before, but when I think back on the story I'm re-reading (& analyzing!)for the third time, that is exactly how the backstory is used! It's really a teaser. One of the MC's reveals part of the backstory, then later a bit more is revealed, and so on. It's definitely kept my interest piqued.

This has been very enlightening. Thanks!

Carolyn V said...

I think The Hunger Games did a great job at having backstory with hook while not dragging out the story.

I hope you're doing good Susan! How's the writing?

Gail Shepherd said...

These are great tips. I think getting backstory in in the right places, in the right amounts, is really a challenge. Something I read recently also reminded me that backstory can happen in small arcs -- the writer compared these little arcs to belt loops. For some reason, I found this visual helpful.

Medeia Sharif said...

I like the idea of backstory as a series of hooks.

I'm editing a WIP and I took out a lot of backstory because it was taking me out of the current action and not moving the story along in a smooth manner. I left some of it in there. I had to use it sparingly and at the right points.