1. Lord_Skellig
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    Lord_Skellig New Member

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    How to introduce the backstory?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lord_Skellig, Nov 7, 2011.

    Hello all, I'm new here and have just started writing a sci-fi novel. The trouble is, to understand the situation of the world and the motives of the characters, there is a large amount of background information that needs to be conveyed to the reader, on the history of this world the state of society etc. I was wondering whether it was best to get it all out of the way near the beginning in a separate, almost flash-back like section, which may seem a bit disjointed and forced, or to weave in the different elements a bit at a time. However, using this method, the reader may spend a while wondering what is going on if the back-story is not entirely clear.
    Thanks, Scott
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    First step is to figure out what backstory the reader really needs.

    Then I'd work it in to the story in an organic fashion as the story progresses. Putting in an infodump at the start of the story to give the backstory is not a good idea, in my view. The reader doesn't necessarily have to know everything from page 1. Look at Gardens of the Moon, by Steven Erikson, for example. That world has as much history and backstory as any fantasy world, yet Erikson provides almost none of it directly to the reader. You just piece it together as you go. Front-loading a book with backstory is a good way to get many readers (and editors) to put it down.
     
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  3. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I agree completely with Steerpike on this. The rules of thumb I use are: a) don't give the reader more backstory than they need, and b) don't give it to them until they need it, or later if you can get away with it.

    The second part is what I'd draw particular attention to. It's a bad idea to spoon feed your reader, you have to trust them to be able to deal with some mystery. In most books it's the thing that would keep you turning the page. The reader wondering what is going on will not kill a book on its own. You can (and should) lead them on a bit.
     
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  4. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Steerpike is on target.

    The reader knows it's a SF story and will be open to learning. Plus, just dumping information without context or ways to anchor it to the current situation and characters is generally an ineffective method to convey meaningful/required backstory.
     
  5. Summer
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    I (obviously) don't know your story so here's a list I think you should keep in mind when choosing to include flashbacks:
    • If this is in a different world/timeframe, don't compare it to how it is on Earth now. Just make it clear that it isn't now or Earth. That's all that is needed. The reader can learn more about the world as they continue to read.
    • Are the characters goals so obscure/unconventional that it actually needs a flashback to explain? If they aren't you can find another way to work it in more subtly.
    • Just really think if this information is not given to the reader now, will the whole story make no sense? Some mystery is great; finding the right balance can be hard. Before adding the flashbacks, see if tweaking your story/narrative a bit can help.
     
  6. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    There probably isn't. I bet they can fill in most of it themselves. It might not be the backstory you had planned, but as long as you have planned the backstory then the situation will be consistent so let the reader make what sense of it they will.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My suggestion (and I don't think it's original with me) is:

    - Pretend you already wrote all the backstory.
    - Start writing your book accordingly.
    - When you're done, read it, and have others read it, and see if you actually need to write any of the backstory. I'll bet that you'll need little to none.
     
  8. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I agree with Banzai and Steerpike. The only thing I will add to it is that maybe a prologue is needed if you have that much back story to tell. In almost every high fantasy I read there is a prologue and it is warranted and needed every time I encounter one. It all depends on what your back story entails.

    In my current work I have a very short 459 word count prologue. It is all the back information that I could not just randomly info dump here and there throughout the story. It had to be said and understood before the story begins. But with that said, I constrained myself to the bare minimum for the same reasons Banzai and Steerpike have given you.
     
  9. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Just to build on Jhunter's post (which I hope he won't mind!) a prologue shouldn't be an excuse to info dump at the beginning, and should add to rather than substitute a well-weaved story.
     
  10. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Agreed.
     
  11. Lord_Skellig
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    Lord_Skellig New Member

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    Thanks guys, this has really helped :)
     

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