Sunday, July 24, 2011

Backstory--Isn't the More the Merrier?

Backstory? Of course the reader has to know it. She just doesn't have to know it all--right now.

Just a soupcon here, a sprinkle there, and you'll have a perfectly seasoned plot. My problem has always been a heavy hand with the salt. Yep. Backstory remains a challenge for me.

That's why I was front and center Saturday for author and teacher Leigh Michaels' session "Things that Stump the Best of Us--Backstory--Pacing--Transitions." Leigh was one of the speakers at this year's conference sponsored by Ozarks Romance Authors (ORA).

Some of her recommendations: tell whatever background you can in dialogue. Natual sounding of course, in a voice consistent with the character's. Another way is to weave backstory in small bits rather than in one huge exposition.

At that point, I thought fondly of my first manuscript with its pages of the hero's angst-y introspection revealing his history and the reason his current situation was so crucial. Absolutely essential, I was convinced.

Which brings up the next point.

Leigh said that readers need not, and often don't want to, know every small detail of the character's former life. Unless the information is essential to the story, omit it.

And third: wait until as late as you can to reveal backstory, sometimes as late as the end.

These were only three of the many tips she touched on during the presentation, but they certainly caught my attention.

I still write backstory. Often I pound out a page or more that I'm certain is deathless prose but turns out to be--blah-blah-blah. Now I cut and paste onto a blank document so I can have it handy to add as needed. Like chocolate sauce drizzled around a slice of cheesecake. Again, figuring out when and how much.... (But I love chocolate, don't you?)

If you'd like more from Leigh Michaels, please check out her well-known book ON WRITING ROMANCE. Find her at

Do you have particular problems with writing backstory? Have you discovered a technique that you've found helpful?


  1. Hi Barb -
    Well, as you know I am such a sparse writer too much backstory is not my problem. Not enough is. LOL This is why we compliment each other as CPs. You can tell me where to add and I can tell you where to subtract. hahaha
    Great post!

  2. Sorry to be so late to the party Barb - there is such a fine line between having too much and not enough. Like Jenn said - that's why a good CP is so important!

  3. Barb, great blog! I have Leigh Michael's book on how to publish a Romance Novel and it is very informative. Lori even borrowed it and got it back to me with some little stickies to highlight the important bits, I believe backstory was one of them! LOL...

    I'm in the same category as you, so anything to help would be productive for me.


  4. Hi Barb,

    Great post! Leigh's advice is priceless. I've done three of her online classes and I have her book. I need all the help I can get. :-)

  5. So true Barb. It is hard to know how much to put in, What to leave out. I struggle too. Sometimes i leave out too much. Sometimes i put too much in. That's why i have critique partners.

  6. You came away with Leigh's top salient points here, Barb. It's a challenge to weave in the right amount of backstory, at the right time, in the right place, with the right words. Letting the manuscript "bake" overnight, sometimes I come back to it and see the perfect place for a backstory insert. Often as not, I don't see how or where to get that done. It's so subjective, so easy to overwhelm the reader or drag on. Leigh had great examples of how to write backstory in tight, timely and telling fashion. Great post!szp

  7. Nothing will make me stop reading a novel faster than too much backstory. I HATE it. I've stopped reading many novels that were overburdened with backstory and never picked them up again.

    Give me action. Give me dialogue. Weave in a little backstory IF necessary but please don't do an info dump. Leigh did have good advice on this. Good idea to post it, Barb.