Backstory May Kill Your Story

When I first began writing MG stories, I loved filling in the juicy details as to what had already happened to my main character.  I assumed potential readers needed to know the reasons behind the behavior of my MC in the initial pages. Right?

Not so fast. I soon found out putting it all in the first chapter or two was killing any desire for someone to read on. They needed time with the story before I weaved in any needed history of the character. I came up with a plan to fix the curse of the backstory.

  1. Highlight any evidence of backstory in the first 15 pages or several chapters. I use red as my highlight color.
  2. Reduce the view to 25% so you can see how much highlight color is in those first pages. From this view you get a visual proportion of backstory and where it occurs. In the case below – way too much.Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 5.20.11 PM
  3. Go back to your normal view percentage. Read through each highlighted sentence and paragraph. Is the sentence or paragraph necessary to move the story forward? If it is, could it be placed later in the story or include just a tidbit of the information here?

I also have someone read both versions of my chapter one – First without the backstory (just the black text) and a second time with the backstory (red and black text). Inevitably they choose the one without the backstory as their favorite.

I still fall back into my old ways but when I do it’s easy to remind myself:

Instead of dumping too much backstory in the first pages, let the reader experience it through the actions of the MC throughout the story.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
This entry was posted in Editing, Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Backstory May Kill Your Story

  1. Excellent article! That’s a very helpful tip; I’ll definitely be using it.

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

  2. diegosdragon says:

    I agree. In my very first book I dumped much backstory in the first four chapters. I was soundly criticized for it and ended up rewriting the book 🙂

  3. Excellent advice. The back story does give you a great connection with the character so that you can deliver a great character-driven story. Enjoyed your post.

  4. Michele Gawenka says:

    Excellent tool! Thanks.

  5. This is a really good method, Greg. Thanks for the post. I will be linking this one on my blog.

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