1. Nicolle Evans
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    Nicolle Evans Member

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    Explaining the backstory

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Nicolle Evans, May 3, 2016.

    My story has a massive backstory that comes into it pretty early on and I'm struggling to find that balance between explaining the backstory and not giving so much away so quickly that it becomes boring to read.

    However, although it is not vital for the reader to know, it is vital for the character to know (is there a way to tell the character rather than the reader?)

    How do you explain a backstory within your writing?
     
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  2. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    Do you have multiple POV characters? If character A needs to learn something immediately, but the reader doesn't need to know it all yet, you can switch to B's POV during the initial explanation and then reveal it through the things A gradually explains to B.
     
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  3. Nicolle Evans
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    Nicolle Evans Member

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    At the moment I just have the one POV but that could be something I definitely look into because it's really not working like it is at the minute! thanks :)
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't imagine any of us on the forum are going to run away with your idea. It will be easier for us to help if we understand, more specifically, what it is that you're trying to do.

    Is it a massive (as in 'huge size') backstory involving political history? Is it a massive (as in 'pivotal') backstory that involves one character's behaviour towards another?

    Can you briefly tell us what you want this hidden backstory to do? Do you want the readers to know there IS a hidden backstory but not know what it is? Is revealing the backstory the point of the story? In other words, do you want it to be a mystery the reader must either solve or wait for? Or is it something the main character needs to come to terms with, or what? What is it that you want the readers to be doing as they read your story?
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2016
  5. Nicolle Evans
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    Nicolle Evans Member

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    It's a character backstory to the point where I have considered writing a "prequel" *horror* based entirely on that story (hence my struggle, when it's so big, to explain it in brief in the story I'm actually writing)

    Basic plot of girl doesn't know her history and lands in the strange magical world knowing NOTHING about it and nothing about who she is.

    The reason is because, when she was born, her father fled with her to a ordinary world to escape the threat on his daughter's life; her own mother. He never mentioned this other world or anything about her mother.

    17 years later the girl lands back in her home world completely by accident and completely unprepared.

    Introduce the explaining.

    I wouldn't say that it was hidden perse but it's going to be a hard story of why her mother is the way she is; because of her father's actions (who she adores)

    I need her to know about this history because the future of that history is the main story arc.
     
  6. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You're right that you don't want to explain to much backstory early on. That's called info-dumping and is boring.
    Often you don't need so much of it early as you think. If readers hear bits of backstory required they tend to be accepting that there's a wider picture that may get revealed as time goes on.
    The readers don't need to know all the backstory that characters know.

    POV Characters learning backstory is a different matter and can work, if the backstory is interesting to the character and relevant to their established goals, then the character's reactions to back story revelations can be interesting.
    That's hard in you're opening though. It's easier to pull off once readers are invested in your character.
    A girl learning her own history can work fairly early, though you might want to hold some of it back for her to learn later. For example could be interesting to make her question and re-evaluate her goals as more information comes to light.
     
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  7. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Sounds like a normal journey of self-discovery that should be paced with an important reveal every 2-3 chapters that leads the plot forward and to the climatic end. A poorly assembled backstory or one dropped too quickly will also jeopardize the reader's interest.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I have a really complex backstory. When I first started taking chapters in to my critique group, people had all sorts of objections, how can this be, that doesn't make sense. I just stopped worrying they didn't get it or that they had other filters they were interpreting the story through.

    I just started writing without worrying about the backstory. I found I could write it without the backstory, if I didn't try to explain my society the story flowed fine.

    It worked to simply leak it in. Now the only problem I have is writing the story synopsis without explaining the back story, but I'm getting there.
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    Why not just start there? Let the reader discover the girl's history as she does?
     
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  10. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    This happens in a lot of movies/TV shows where someone new comes into a situation and, even though everyone else knows what's going on, it all has to be explained to the new guy. One of the best examples I can think of is when Andy Travis first comes to work at W.K.R.P. in Cincinnati. Total fish out of water, everyone around him seems insane, and somehow he's gotta make sense of it all and turn the station around. So...

    Firstly, make him curious enough to ask when something happens that he doesn't understand. Have him do things the wrong way and get corrected by someone else who knows how things work. (And this is where the curiosity comes in: ) Have him ask why things are done that way. If the information is given grudgingly and piecemeal, that should do the trick.
     

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