In any novel there will be some back story. Most characters haven’t just been born. They had a life before the novel began. And even one who has just been born has parents with back stories that will impact on the newborn. Some of that previous life will be relevant to the current story and needs to be told. It is also important to set the scene, whether indoors or out, to give readers a feeling for the setting (or settings) of the novel in place and time.
Even more so for a historical novel. Most readers will be unaware of the norms, limitations and customs that shaped everyday life in the specific time period. They won’t know what places looked like before the advent of cars, fridges and electricity wires.
It is the job of the writer to tell them what life was like in those days.
Readers don’t want information dumped on them. The backdrop doesn’t have to be described at once and the back story, however interesting, doesn’t move the current story along. Whatever can be shown during the story shouldn’t be told upfront. This is true of all fiction; in historical fiction there are more unknowns, making the avoidance of infomation dumping more difficult.
P.S. I’m looking forward to reading your comments. It might take me three days to reply, but reply I will.
9 replies on “2015 A to Z Challenge: B is for BACKDROP and BACK STORY”
Most backstory never makes it into the story, but what does have to be woven in, not dumped.
Quite. It’s not always easy to achieve that.
Knowing when to directly state establishing information, and how much, and when to convey things as a natural part of the story, has been a hard-earned skill. I came from a background of mostly reading older books, which often started by setting up the characters, setting, and storyline, so I had to get used to the fact that modern books are expected to start quite a bit differently.
And beginnings are so important.
This is true. Sometimes, I want to cram so much backstory into a story. I have to hold myself back. lol
Or edit it out afterwards?
Very true. I never liked the info-dump style of doing historical fiction. Ironically, the person who does it best is GRRM, and he writes fantasy. Have you noticed that some authors dig up a piece of info and then keep using them over and over? Philippa Gregory mentions rushes on the floor every couple of pages. We get it 😀
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The temptation to dump information just to show you know what you are talking about is very difficult to resist. However, you have to treat your story as just that – a story. As in all other genres, readers are turned off by screeds of contextual information. As someone above commented, it has to be woven in.