Posted On May 22, 2009 by Print This Post

Got Backstory? What Do You Do With It?

theresa-stevens-pic1 Please join me in welcoming Theresa Stevens, Managing Editor at Red Sage Publishing, to RU! Theresa has generously agreed to pop in a few times during the day to answer some of your questions.

You’ve probably heard some of the “rules” about backstory. They usually start with the word Don’t. Don’t use it in the first chapter. Don’t use it in an action scene. Don’t use it in the black moment. Don’t use it in the climax. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. There’s a simple rationale behind these rules. If you understand the rationale, you won’t have to worry about sorting out which of these rules to apply. But first, let’s make sure we all understand our terms.

What Is Backstory?

Remember the timelines that decorated your high school history text? If you were studying World War One, the timeline began with an assassination and ended with the Allied victory. Your book can be mapped in a similar way. The first event in the book is the starting point of your timeline. The final resolution of the plot is the end point. Everything that happens in chronological book time between these two points constitutes your plot. Here is the simplest definition of backstory: every relevant *event* that occurs before your book’s timeline begins is backstory. If the event can be plotted on your book’s chronological timeline (like the battles of World War One in the history text) then the event is plot. If the event precedes your book’s chronological timeline, it is backstory.

A Working Definition of Story

As long as we’ve defined backstory, let’s also define story. Story is composed of: 1) People 2) In motion 3) Against a backdrop That’s it in a nutshell. Character, plot/conflict, world-building. There are other story elements such as theme and motif, but those are usually built up by manipulating other elements. In other words, you don’t write a chapter that explains the theme. But you might choose actions or a setting to enhance a thematic idea.

Why All the Don’ts?

Backstory may sound innocent enough, but it’s freighted with dangers. Let’s look at its effect on our three story elements.

~Stopped Motion

Backstory stops your story motion cold. Imagine your reader strolling along your story timeline, enjoying the journey, and then all of a sudden, forward progress stops. She’s yanked off the timeline and sent in a way-back machine to events that are off the map. Everything else is arrested, held in suspension until the reader is filled in on the missing details. It’s the equivalent of listening to a child tell a story with great enthusiasm, but she suddenly interrupts with, “Oh, wait! I forgot to tell you something!”

Too many of these interruptions, and by the end of the tale, you’ll have a frozen smile and secret hope that the kid, at least, understands what she just said. You may be tempted to counteract this effect by wiggling the past events into the present story line. This sometimes results in soap opera dialogue.

“But, Jasmine, you know darn well that Mark broke both his femurs in 1987, and married his nurse Madeline, but she was secretly in love with Carmine, who kidnapped her and forced her to become a bigamist, but then Carmine was shot during a drug bust, and Grace never forgave herself for narcing on him, and so this is why you can’t serve madeliene cakes at your surprise engagement party for Mark and Grace!”

Do you see why that’s bad? It might seem engaging, in one sense, because it recounts a lot of exciting events. But who is the speaker speaking to? Jasmine already knows all that stuff. The dialogue sounds false because it is false. Jasmine must stand there and play decoy while the audience catches up. That’s a pretty shabby way to treat Jasmine.

~Characters

You might think that backstory relates to character because it explains internal conflicts and motivations.

“Mark’s first wife Madeline cheated on him, and now he’s afraid to trust a woman.” Poor Mark. Who can blame him? But let’s take a look at two possibilities and decide which makes a stronger story.

Choice A) Mark had a bad first marriage. Years later, he meets Grace. Grace is beautiful, sweet, smart, successful, and interested in him. Mark sees Grace’s good qualities and is deeply attracted to her. But he hesitates to trust her because of his ex-wife.

Choice B) The first time Mark sees Grace, she’s skulking in the cloakroom on parent-teacher night. He sees her look over her shoulder then stick her hand inside a man’s jacket pocket. Later, Detective Mark learns that a car was stolen from the school parking lot.

Both of these scenarios paint trust issues. In one, Mark doesn’t trust Grace because of a third party’s actions. In the second, Mark doesn’t trust Grace because of her own actions. Do you see how the second conflict is stronger?

Mark is motivated by immediate and pressing concerns rather than by some free-floating emotion from some years distant. In other words, beware the backstory used to shore up character motivations. It often points to a lack of real conflict or to other plot problems. Every time you’re tempted to reach backwards to explain why characters are behaving a certain way, stop. Ask yourself if you can fix it in the present story moment, because this will almost always be the stronger fix.

~The Furniture

Even when you intend backstory to tie directly to character issues, in many cases it will mimic the world-building. “Mark lives in a Cape Cod on a quiet street. He and Madeline bought the house before he learned she was cheating on him. He caught her with Carmine in the downstairs bathroom shower. He won’t go into that room now, not even to clean it, and it’s still painted the girly lilac she picked out.”

Even though backstory relates past events, it sets the stage for current events. Let’s face it — if it didn’t set that stage, there would be no reason to include it. So perhaps Mark’s purple bathroom becomes important when Grace, his interior decorator, is banned from repainting it. The purple bathroom is symbolic of Mark’s inner landscape, and that’s perfectly fine. In fact, this is how we like it to work: the character’s inner state is made manifest in his outer world.

So think about how your character’s backstory becomes tangible in the physical story world. And then think about how those tangible details can be used as props while the characters are working out their conflicts. This will effectively tie the past to the present in a meaningful way. But one coat of lilac paint is all you need. No need to analyze every bristle on the paintbrush. Present your backstory and return to the present as quickly as possible. You want to sacrifice as little momentum as possible.

Don’t.

Where do all the Don’t rules come from? Now that you understand that backstory stops the forward motion of the plot, you know why it’s not a great idea to use it in an action scene. It kills the momentum of the action. Likewise, in the early chapters, you want to keep tightly focused on plot and forward motion, simply because this will lock in your reader’s attention. The black moment and the crisis should be built on a foundation of strong conflicts in the plot. They shouldn’t need to be propped up by backstory. We could go on and pick apart every manifestation of a backstory Don’t, but the bottom line is this: You want your story to be dynamic and engaging. If backstory helps you accomplish this goal, then there’s no Don’t about it.

After earning degrees in creative writing and law, Theresa Stevens worked as a literary attorney agent for a boutique firm based in Indianapolis where she represented a range of fiction and nonfiction authors. The lure of the courtroom led to a nine-year hiatus from the publishing industry, but now Theresa is back as Managing Editor for Red Sage Publishing, a highly acclaimed small press. Her articles on writing and editing have appeared in numerous publications for writers. Visit her blog at http://edittorrent.blogspot.com where she and her co-blogger share their knowledge and hardly ever argue about punctuation.

Thank you, Theresa! Be sure to stop by Theresa’s blog, Edittorrent, for topics like this and a whole lot more. A writer’s candy shop!! Don’t forget to leave a comment. One lucky commenter during our launch week (May 18-22) will win an iPod Nano! Be sure to join Kelsey on Monday (actually Tuesday since Monday’s Memorial Day) to find out why Author Natalie Damschroder thinks Writing IS a Business.

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44 Responses to “Got Backstory? What Do You Do With It?”

  1. Welcome, Theresa! Thank you for joining us today.

    Prologue’s are essentially one big clump of backstory. I’ve heard conflicting opinions on whether one should have a prologue or not. And I suspect there’s probably not a right or wrong answer, especially after reading your post. But can you give me your editor’s opinion on the merits (or lack of) a prologue?

    Thanks, Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | May 22, 2009, 5:27 am
  2. Great post, Theresa! I’ve never actually had the perils of backstory explained so simply and succinctly. It’s one of those “no-nos” that I knew slowed pace but the examples you gave just set it in stone for me. Thank you!

    Posted by Maree Anderson | May 22, 2009, 6:00 am
  3. I know these rules . What i don’t know is how to actually interweave the backstory into the current story seamlessly. which is a different matter entirely.
    However, the example of the bathroom does give me some direction on how to include backstory.
    Thanks.

    Posted by Nancy M | May 22, 2009, 6:28 am
  4. Theresa –

    First, welcome to RU! We’re so excited to have you with us.

    I love the idea of using events in the plot (or timeline) to showcase a character’s issues created by their back story. My question is how to handle this so that the action or set piece doesn’t feel contrived. For example, my current hero’s back story includes looking out for his deaf brother since they were 17 and 12. They are now 31 and 26. So I have him become protective of the heroine very quickly. However, I know I’m not hitting the mark because all my CPs have asked what’s motivating his behavior toward the heroine. Any insight is appreciated!

    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | May 22, 2009, 7:22 am
  5. Great post. Like probably most of us, I learned about backstory the hard way–by writing reams of boring awfulness that I later had to take an axe to. I finally realized that sometimes I HAD to write the “BS” for myself first to get the sequence and characters and their conflicts and their past clear in my own head. Then I’d save it to another file and begin the real story in a new one–where the action began.

    I’ve judged a lot of contests for “aspiring authors” lately, and I found myself asking the writers over and over, “Is this where the story really starts? What if you cut the first XX pages and begin where ZZZ happens?”

    I had a thought about an approach to BS the other day, and I’d like to try it out here. I read a lot of mysteries before I discovered romance. In a mystery, you learn the backstory–motives, events, facts–bit by bit as the detective uncovers it. What if you approach it in the same way when writing a romance? Put in hints, facts, opinions, etc., as you tell the present story and have the characters discover or reveal it that way instead of all in a lump?

    Does thinking of it that way help anyone?

    Cheers,
    Ann

    Posted by Ann Macela | May 22, 2009, 7:56 am
  6. Ann – Actually, it helps me a lot. I’ve wondered this myself. As a writer, the thought is daunting to weave all that info into the story bit by bit. How much is enough to keeper the reader reading? It’s enough to make one’s head spin!

    Thanks for the great question. I look forward to reading Theresa’s answer.

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | May 22, 2009, 8:01 am
  7. Hi, Theresa and thanks for being here today. My question is along the same lines as Tracey’s, but not necessarily about a prologue. How often do you find a manuscript has started with an incident that is actually part of backstory?

    I’ve discovered I do this when writing and usually find my story actually begins in the middle of chapter 2.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | May 22, 2009, 8:13 am
  8. Thanks for the great post. I was trying to figure out how I can insert some backstory into the story without slowing it down. The sentence about letting backstory manifest itself as a tangible object in the physical story world clicked on the switch for me. I can now use an object that both want as representative of back story as well as a prop for the main conflict.

    I really appreciate the help!

    Amy

    Posted by Amy Nichols | May 22, 2009, 8:54 am
  9. Hi, everyone, and thanks for the warm welcome!

    I’m going to take questions one at a time. Might be easier to read them if I separate them out.

    Tracey, if a prologue is true backstory, it can probably be cut altogether. The necessary details can be incorporated elsewhere. But there’s another kind of prologue that’s actually more like a chapter one separated by a big time gap from the rest of the story events.

    So ask your prologue, “Are you about character and premise, or are you about events that directly cause other events later in time?” Character and premise prologues are the ones we’ve come to frown upon. And frankly, event “prologues” are easily relabeled “Chapter One” with a time stamp there and also at the top of the next event.

    Does that make sense?
    Theresa

    Posted by Theresa S. | May 22, 2009, 9:35 am
  10. Nancy,

    How do you weave in backstory? That’s sort of where the art comes in. One good rule of thumb, though, is to gauge three things.

    1 – How much momentum exists in the current scene moment? IOW, what effect will a backstory interruption have upon the pace here?

    2 – How long must the interruption be?

    3 – How dramatic is the backstory?

    After you have some sense of the relative dramatic weight of the current scene and the backstory, you can ballpark how much room you’ve got to explore the backstory. Lesser backstory elements should take up less page space. Backstory dropped into high-drama scenes should take up less space. You know, this is where some of those “don’t” rules come from, come to think of it. They’re an attempt to shorthand this measuring process.

    And part of it is voice, too. Taut, tense, clean prose will support less backstory. Lush, complex prose will support more.

    Does that help? This is a really complex topic and it’s hard to be succinct.

    Theresa

    Posted by Theresa S. | May 22, 2009, 9:44 am
  11. Most of my characters have rather elaborate backstories. And, like most writers, I found out the hard way that nobody–but me–really cares. However, writing historicals set in a particular era does require inclusion of certain historical aspects lest the story become a costume drama.

    Characters help, of course, especially if the characters are the historical figures of the time, but when part of the conflict is an actual result of the history, backstory becomes necessary. So my question is, how much is too much?

    I’ve tried to make the history a back drop, but that leaves so many holes in the scenery the staging feels incomplete. Someone suggested assuming the reader is familiar with an era, but we don’t all write familiar eras.

    What do you suggest?

    Posted by Pat | May 22, 2009, 9:52 am
  12. Kelsey,

    How does your hero’s caretaker relationship with his brother affect his daily life in the current story line? How do these things relate back to the character trait of protectiveness? Try a little mind-mapping. Set your kitchen timer for ten minutes, and list out all the *activities* your hero does for his brother. Take him to the doctor, install new batteries in the smoke detector and doorbell, etc. etc. Don’t worry about whether these details are true — you’re just brainstorming.

    When the timer goes off, stop. Look at your list. Think about which of these details could be incorporated into the existing scenes. Maybe the brother himself pops up in a scene, or maybe the hero is holding a bag full of batteries, or maybe he feels pressed for time because he has to take his brother to the doctor soon.

    Good luck! This can be a lot of fun to play with. :)
    Theresa

    Posted by Theresa S. | May 22, 2009, 9:57 am
  13. Ann,

    Yes, exactly. The difference is in the story goals. In a mystery, the goal is solving the crime puzzle. In a romance, the goal has more to do with character and emotion. This is precisely why backstory can be such a trap for romance authors. Those internal emotional/character details can be hard to dramatize. But yes, absolutely, play out this kind of character revelation over the course of the book. Just watch out that it doesn’t turn into one of those stories where a conversation could eliminate the conflict.

    Always knew you were a smart cookie. :)
    Theresa

    Posted by Theresa S. | May 22, 2009, 10:05 am
  14. Adrienne,

    It’s often hard to know where to start the story’s timeline. With shorter pieces like novellas and short stories, there’s very little room for backstory. Authors sometimes try to do a lot of set-up in the early scenes, and usually we just try to refocus those scenes on the action. Frequently, this means cutting a lot of the material in the early scenes.

    In novels, we have more room for backstory, but we try to shift it to the middle of the book. The middle of the book is like a flower unfurling. Each petal opens to reveal a new petal, until eventually we get to the center of things. So this is a more natural place to explore backstory.

    Theresa

    Posted by Theresa S. | May 22, 2009, 10:15 am
  15. Amy, I’m so glad to hear you say this. It’s funny, but when I was writing the post, that sentence you mention seemed like the real take-away detail. Readers want stories that are present and immediate, and tying the backstory to the present is going to make it feel more important and dramatic.

    Theresa

    Posted by Theresa S. | May 22, 2009, 10:17 am
  16. Pat,

    Some of the balancing questions I posted in reply to Nancy’s question might help you. For those of us who like historical fiction, that world-building is a key part of the reading experience. You have more room for backstory, then, but pay attention to the way you incorporate it. Keep the drama level high. Don’t let the stage overwhelm the characters, but use it to enhance the characters and their conflicts.

    Over the past twenty years or so, historical romance has been stripped of most of the history. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — the Jane Austen stories we all know and love don’t have a lot of politics or then-current events in them, after all. Romance is meant to be about two people forming a pair-bond. Not about the invention of the self-striking match. ;)

    I would love to see more historical romances that rely on actual historical figures and events. But the market has moved in a different direction. I get my history fixes these days with historical fiction rather than with historical romance.

    Theresa

    Posted by Theresa S. | May 22, 2009, 10:44 am
  17. Very interesting reading. As a reader I often find that I have to re-read a chapter (and sometimes go back even further) because I feel that “I lost something somewhere”. There have been times that I actually put a book aside because it got so frustrating trying to keep “it straight”. Thanks for the explanation.

    Posted by joan giordano | May 22, 2009, 11:55 am
  18. Hi Theresa,

    Your post and the questions and answers are so great that I had to stop myself from copying and pasting and saying, “this is the answer to your questions. So instead I reposted the link AGAIN.

    I did want to ask a question about the prologue also. Theresa, what types of stories do you think would most benefit from having a prologue? Do you think if a prologue was used in an ongoing series that the author could then eliminate the need for back story?

    I know….two questions. Sorry. But I really do want to know. Thanks Theresa.

    Dyanne

    Posted by Dyanne Davis | May 22, 2009, 12:03 pm
  19. Hi Theresa!

    I dragged myself out of the corner and figured I’d stop by.;) I’m glad too – your post was awesome! Especially the part when you said:

    beware the backstory used to shore up character motivations. So true!

    The answers in the comments are just as informative. I liked when you said:

    where a conversation could eliminate conflict.

    I never thought about it in those terms before and it makes so much sense.

    It’s great of you to be doing this. Thanks again!
    Murphy

    Posted by Murphy | May 22, 2009, 12:17 pm
  20. Hi,
    One week old, and already I’m a fan. As most writers, we have to get our “learning” in quickly and don’t have time to sit and read a craft book. These blogs/articles are very helpful and easy to digest. This topic of backstory has made me think about my books, and to doublecheck what I have written that backstory doesn’t halt the plot progression. Thank you for the information.

    Posted by Kit Donner | May 22, 2009, 1:00 pm
    • Thanks, Kit. We’re glad you are enjoying the blog. We put a lot of thought into the content, so it’s nice to hear you’ve been happy. We’ll do our best to keep it that way!

      Posted by Adrienne Giordano | May 22, 2009, 1:13 pm
    • Hi Kit,

      Thanks for stopping by, and we’re glad to have you as our first fan!! We hope you’ll continue to visit us over the next several months, because we have a whole host of awesome Visiting Professors, like Theresa, stopping in to share their knowledge and expertise.

      Posted by Tracey Devlyn | May 22, 2009, 1:50 pm
  21. Thanks Theresa for such a succinct explanation! You’ve given me a lot to think about — visualize me scooting pages past on the laptop to see if I’m doing what you suggest or tying the reluctant reader to backstory.

    Hmmmm. I’m thinking.

    Posted by Beppie Harrison | May 22, 2009, 1:35 pm
  22. Beppie,

    I had to laugh at your saying tying the reluctant reader to backstory. I’ll bet we’re all wondering the same thing. I’m enjoying the questions as much as I am the answers.

    Dyanne

    Posted by Dyanne Davis | May 22, 2009, 1:42 pm
  23. I am writing a paranormal time travel romance with the first chapter set in the past. I have been waffling for months over whether or not this chapter constitutes backstory. After reading your comments above, I think my chapter one is more about events in the past that directly impact the future than about character and premise.

    However, I’m still unsure about this chapter. We learn a lot about the hero and actions he took that he regrets. The ending of my story is similar to my chapter one, but with a twist. Readers need to know this past event in order to fully appreciate the hero’s dilemma in the present.

    How do I know if it’s better to present the past event in the first chapter, versus letting it come out slowly over the course of the book? The rest of the story (present time) does not relate to the events in the past in any other way.

    Thank you,
    Laurie

    Posted by Laurie P. | May 22, 2009, 1:45 pm
  24. Hi, Dyanne!

    What kinds of stories can benefit from prologues? Hmm. Not sure this is really linked to story type. I think it’s probably story-specific rather than type-specific. I will say that in general, the number of stories benefitting from prologues is probably somewhat lower than the number of stories with prologues. ;)

    I’m in the midst of editing a series right now, so your question about prologues in series really intrigues me. I suppose this could be a useful technique if the inciting incident for later stories has its roots in an event from an earlier story. Is each story a stand-alone?

    The series I’m editing now is a paranormal menage series involving a recurring character, Trey, a time-striding demigod who must hopscotch through human history (and future) to reunite couples torn apart by the forces of evil. Each story is designed to stand alone, except the first installment and the last installment which bracket the entire series. The first story contains the setup — Trey screws up a mission badly, so badly that humanity is teetering on extinction. Do readers need to read it in order to understand every other story in the series? No, but it does give lots of insight into Trey’s character and motivations. (Also, it made me cry. You can’t imagine how rare that is.)

    So even though the inciting incident — Trey’s massively huge screw-up — is contained in the first story, a prologue wouldn’t really add anything to the stories in the middle of the series. The first story is about Trey, but the second story is about a guy named Edward and his tender young bride. Trey is in it, and some things happen that help him reach the resolution of his personal story, but a prologue containing events from his first story might actually weaken the Edward book by taking the focus off Edward. Do you see what I mean?

    That’s not to say a prologue in a series can never work. Just that each story needs to be self-contained to some degree. My guess is that in most cases, that self-containment would be harmed by a prologue featuring material from another book.

    Theresa
    Theresa

    Posted by Theresa Stevens | May 22, 2009, 1:47 pm
  25. Hi, Murph! Glad you stopped by!

    Murphy is a regular commenter on my editing blog, http://edittorrent.blogspot.com , where Alicia Rasley and I wax editorial. We have a lot of fun over there, and one of the best things about it is getting to interact with writers we might not otherwise meet.

    Theresa

    Posted by Theresa Stevens | May 22, 2009, 1:51 pm
  26. Laurie P., it sounds as though this first chapter of yours is backstory. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should cut it. You say your final chapter echoes the first chapter? And the final chapter contains the resolution to the main story, right? So what you’ve got yourself there is a variety of a frame structure. Frames are structural devices used to create resonance and dramatic impact. You can’t cut the first chapter without changing the structure of the book.

    Does that mean that this is the best structural choice for this story? That’s a different question altogether! But what the heck — run with it. You can always change it later if it doesn’t work.

    Theresa

    Posted by Theresa Stevens | May 22, 2009, 1:59 pm
  27. Thanks, Theresa! The final chapter does resolve the main story and in some ways brings the story around full circle, connecting the present with the past. It’s such a little thing, but knowing that I can keep this structural framework (unless it doesn’t work) is freeing!

    It may turn out that there’s more suspense in letting the information out slowly–in which case I have a lot of rewriting in front of me!–but I’m glad I don’t have to reject it out of hand.

    Thank you so much for your advice. I really appreciate it!

    Laurie

    Posted by Laurie P. | May 22, 2009, 2:25 pm
  28. What a fantastic article, Theresa! I first learned about the evils of backstory (specifically as presented through flashbacks) from one of Alicia’s articles.

    I like how you point out that making the conflict immediate and in the present. One of my WIPs is kind of suffering from this, I think, since a lot of the conflict stems from an event (specifically, it’s “boy loses girl”) that happens months before the story opens. I don’t want the characters stuck in the past (or in a problem that could be resolved in a conversation), so I’ve been looking for ways to bring the conflict into the present, too.

    Posted by Jordan McCollum | May 22, 2009, 2:30 pm
  29. Theresa,

    The books are meant to be stand alones. Since something new is happening in each book I believe the readers can follow the story. But on the other hand each book takes up where the previous one left off.

    During the edits for the third book in the series, my editor told me there was a fine balance between telling too much to readers who knew the story and making sure new readers wouldn’t become lost. She wanted me to add a bit of back story even though she noted that I had weaved in major points through the story without it being back story. She also said I had a fantastic dramatic opening but still thought I should put in a bit of back story.

    It was then I wondered if I would be better off putting the back story in a prologue. For that book though I added a couple of paragraphs, kept my dramatic opening, and had the character stop time as he contemplated how his life had spiraled out of control.

    But since there will be at least four more books in the series the issue of back story/prologue is a very real one at the moment. So much so that I haven’t started writing the book yet. I’ve decided to do something else first. Thanks Theresa. All of this information is really helpful

    Dyanne

    Posted by Dyanne Davis | May 22, 2009, 3:05 pm
  30. I love the comment about avoiding backstory during action scenes! It really highlights how backstory can impact a story’s momentum. Great insights, thank you for the article.

    Posted by Suzanne | May 22, 2009, 4:22 pm
  31. Everyone, thank you so much for joining us today! We really appreciate the support.

    Theresa, awesome post and answers! You’ve really given us a lot of food for thought.

    Have a great weekend!!
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | May 22, 2009, 8:10 pm
  32. Excellent information.

    If I am understanding this right, there are different kinds of backstory and your advice is to weave the backstory into a current action. Right?

    Sorry, this is something I am struggling with in my story.

    Posted by Mary E. Ulrich | May 23, 2009, 8:11 am
  33. Backstory is one of my issues, too. I find my characters utterly fascinating and can’t figure out why everyone doesn’t want to know all the details about them. ;)

    But seriously, my first book, Murder of a Small-Town Honey, ended up starting with what was originally Chapter 3!

    Posted by Denise Swanson | May 23, 2009, 8:43 am
  34. The more everyone is talking and sharing their own issues the clearer this is becoming. I don’t know why writers think they’re the only with the issue until it’s brought out in a forum like this.

    I was already following Theresa’s advice about weaving the back story in, but it was with the series that I was hitting a snag of how much is too much and when isn’t it enough.

    This has been a very informative post. Kind of like an on line class. But one of the good things to happen from this is that I’m now going to brainstorm with another ‘series’ author. Thanks everyone.

    Dyanne

    Posted by Dyanne Davis | May 23, 2009, 9:13 am
  35. I have a 10-page back story in my manuscript, which explains how the main character got his job and why a blue poker chip is his prize possession. This back story is really a short story.
    Should I just keep this back story for possible future expansion into a future novel? The poker chip is mentioned two places in my manuscript and could be a starting place for novel #2.
    Thank you for sharing your expertise on back stories and prologues (I had a P, but wisely am working any VIP details from it into the story itself.

    Posted by Mary Jo | May 23, 2009, 5:09 pm
  36. I’ve never actually had the perils of backstory explained so simply and succinctly. It’s one of those “no-nos” that I knew slowed pace but the examples you gave just set it in stone for me. Thank you!

    Posted by carrie | July 14, 2009, 8:41 pm

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  1. [...] http://romanceuniversity.org/2009/05/22/got-backstory-what-do-you-do-with-it/ [...]

  2. [...] found this post and this one on Romance University that add more to this. The first one has jolted me out of a [...]

  3. [...] editor Theresa Stevens puts it (emphasis mine): Even though backstory relates past events, it sets the stage for current events. [...]

  4. [...] editor Theresa Stevens has said: Beware the backstory used to shore up character motivations. It often points to a lack of real [...]

  5. [...] Got Backstory? What Do You Do With It? by Theresa Stevens at Romance University [...]

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