1. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    avoiding massive back story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Tesoro, Feb 17, 2011.

    hey, i got an idea, im sure im not the first one to think of this and maybe someone have already said it but reading what many of you write about feeling the need to present some kind of more or less extensive backstory in the beginning of your (often fantasy)novels (especially when they take place in another time and/or reality), i came up with a little idea: why dont you write down the whole back story as good as you can, still as if it was a previous part of the book and then you just say "this is going to be the back cover copy", and put it aside proceeding with the actual novel. you would avoid boring the readers in the beginning of the novel and still they would know all the need to know to understand. could it be an idea?
     
  2. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    I don't usually put a massive backstory into anything I write. Some things may be told in flashback, others simply hinted at either in dialogue or in thought. I like it much better this way, and have not had any complaints about this yet. It provides a rich background, but one that the reader is fed gradually, and not in one giant gollop at the beginning.
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    i dont have that problem either, mostly because my novels are in modern time and there is nothing to be explained, but i thought maybe for those who need to explain the setting and what happened to get to this point, maybe they are writing about the earth year 2310 or something and we need to know how everything has been evolving until then. but i agree with you, Even I prefer to incorporate it in the actual story, just that i have heard so many people saying this so i thought it might be a solution for them if its not possible to start without explaining first.
     
  4. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is something I kind of did subconsciously I guess.

    I had a massive prologue with back story etc, which I have long since cut out completely. I've inserted the most important infos from that into the story.
     
  5. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Tesoro, even if your story takes place in 2310, you don't need to write down the backstory. So the opening scene could be the main character getting out of an aquatic hibernation tank - that would tell the readers lots about the background without having it explained to them, and it would be fun because it would be like a voyage of discovery instead of a history lecture. :)

    BTW, I also place most of my stories in modern times.
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    My backstory has all come about from writing the stories - it crops up and I know more. However I did write a novella at Christmas about Socrates and Nate's childhood (two of my main characters) and its been wonderful how much it has informed and helped my rewrite of my first book. I have been able to include little nuggets from it.
     
  7. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    I have the same problem. I have a story that requires a lot of knowledge about real-world economics, the stock market, politics, socialism and regulations - knowledge the average reader I suppose doesn't have. It's essential because the plot is about manipulation the economy/financial meltdown. Explaining this in a different context is what I think makes the story credible and compelling.

    My story has a scene where the antagonist gives a presentation to an audience to explain a lot what's going on. It's an info dump for sure, but I decided to postpone cleaning it up until I am done with the plot. Then a bit remodelling, shifting texts, cutting (which is easier than writing, right?) - done. At least that's the approach I take. It's possibly not the most efficient, but I like developing the plot while writing, not planning the whole thing meticulously prior to starting.
     
  8. demented-tiger
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    demented-tiger Member

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    I ran into a similar problem with an alternate history story I wrote. Basically, the story takes place at the end of the Mexican American War, when a Mexican army overruns a frontier town in Missouri and proceeds to invade Illinois and Indiana. For the student of history, this is impossible, as everyone who paid attention in History class knows how Mexico got its ass kicked in the Mexican American War. Perhaps a backstory would have helped me explain how the main story became possible (the discovery of an advanced Indian civilization in northern Mexico and the Southwest made up of the Anasazi and the Hohokam encouraged the Spanish to conquer the region, discover gold and silver, and aggressively missionize the Athabaskan tribes of Navajo and Apaches; thus building a prosperous province in modern-day New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado with a population strong enough and determined enough to resist American invasion and attack the Oregon Trail and the Mormon settlements in Utah among other things).

    However, I just couldn't find a place to put that information in my story while making it sound natural (my narrator was an 18 year old Irish American boy living on the frontier)
     
  9. zilly
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    zilly Senior Member

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    There are several things to think about.

    One can argue that for a series such as Lord of the Rings, it doesn't make sense for a massive back story to make its way into the first novel. However, for a single novel, one can argue that if it's party of the story, it should be included in the novel and not in some separate text.

    I think the biggest question is: exactly how massive is the back story? If you're talking about something like The Silmarillion, that needs to be separate. But, a lot of background information can be worked into a story over time without being an info dump.

    So, unfortunately for you, I think the answer to this question is the most frequent answer: it depends.
     
  10. Dandroid
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    Dandroid Senior Member

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    I find that writers whose subject matter takes place in the distant future feel the need to bring the reader up to speed....thing is...if they are opening your book...chances are they are familiar with the genre...that and a lot of the fun is extrapolation as one goes...

    consider the watchmen movie...a fairly quick historical preamble...then gradual revelation throughout...pretty successful...
     

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