All About Backstory

Blog Me Maybe: May I Tell You Something About Writing

(or better yet, it's not)

The dreaded backstory. We writers love writing it, but we don't love reading it. And we KNOW that agents/publishers don't want ANYTHING to do with it.

But why do we have such a problem with it? I think I, in all my genius (haha), have figured it out.

If you're a pantser like me, you get an idea for a book. Something like this: I'm gonna write a book about this girl who becomes a witch and she's really popular but she loses all her popularity because the witch thing is taking over her life and then she meets this guy who ends up being a warlock but he likes to use his powers for evil and somehow the girl has to convince him to be good or the world will end.

Haha. Seriously, this is one the ideas stewing in my head but I've left it alone because others have done witch stories waaaaay better than I could do. Obviously.

Anyway, so you've got this idea, but that's it. So you sit down and start to write it. And you write and you write and you write. And maybe about halfway through, or maybe even when you're done and rereading do you realize, gah- too much backstory!

Why? Because you're learning the backstory as you go. You are getting to know your character as you write him/her. You're discovering as you go along that maybe said MC has daddy issues, or maybe her best friend died a few years ago, or maybe she's got the need to please everyone because her mom is a successful CEO, or maybe all three. And you're writing obsessive details about these things because it's helping you to shape the character and get to know him/her and why they do the things they do.

(I'm wondering if this happens to plotters? Probably not as much.)

Backstory is just for us, the writer. And I think it's just fine to write it. It's recognizing as you reread, what can be cut out. We the writer need to know every in and out of our characters and what makes them tick- which is why we need to know their backstory. Once we know it, it's up to us to get rid of it from our MS's. It's up to us to use our writing powers to then sprinkle it in lightly, hinting to the reader tidbits of the backstory and then letting them figure out the rest. Not always easy, but certainly do-able.

Anyone NOT struggle with backstory? What's your secret?