1. alabamarain
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    alabamarain New Member

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    Writing the back story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by alabamarain, Sep 9, 2010.

    I'm working on the rough draft of my first novel and have just realized that I'm "telling" too much of my main character's back story. It's important to the story as a whole, but I'd rather introduce it through action or dialogue instead of the information dump I've got going so far. But I'm stuck on HOW to go about doing that. Any suggestions?

    Also, I feel like I can't continue on with the rest of the story until I've got this back story situation worked out. I know this is just the first draft, and I can go back and edit later. But I'm having a really hard time moving on. Help!

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Have the characters discover the important elements of the backstory the hard way, by bits and pieces. The rest of it, leave out of the story.

    You should only write story, not backstory. If it's a tidbit not needed for the story, omit it.

    If you need to research how other writers accomplish this, the mystery genre is an excellent place to start reading.
     
  3. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You might have this tendency to write tha backstory into the story all the time, because you feel a need to, because its crammed into your head together with the story. Get is out of your head.

    Take a separate file/paper and write down a summery of the back story any way you want. A bullet point list or time line might do it.

    When you done that prioritize and explain why things needs to be introduce to the story. "Her sister death need to be mentioned because of..." or "Woking as a car saleman dont have to be mentioned, but might give color"

    When you figured out what needs to be worked into the story and why, and either plan how to do this (if you are an outliner) or keep it in mind when you write (if you are an exploration writer) or a mix of both.
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Finish the first draft it is much easier to take the information out than put it back in later. I personally include back story in my first draft because I want to know it and it maybe useful.

    I removed thousands of words of backstory out of my book on the way back through but they helped me add some rich story elements because I knew why it was happening. I knew my characters and the scenary around them better.
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I'd say the best way to do it is to bring it up in dialogue.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Dialogue is not best used for exposition. Dialogue is better used to expose character.

    I wouldn't go so far as to say dialogue shouldn't be used for exposition. It may be that such a dialogue can simultaneously reveal an attitude of a character toward the revelation, or bring up a conflict with another character over the meaning or reliability of the information. But dialogue solely for exposition can be rather dull and lifeless.

    Be especially wary of "As you know, Bob" exposition.
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Depends on the age of your characters but I used bedtime stories for a couple of pieces of information that made my book flow better.
     
  8. alabamarain
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    alabamarain New Member

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    Thanks, Everyone! This is good stuff. I'm wondering if maybe I just need to start my story a little earlier. The back story involves recent activities and pieces of information that are pretty important to the plot.

    Example: The story opens with the main character and her friend living on the streets. She ran away from home a few years back. So, I'm struggling to explain to the reader 1) how the main character and the friend met, 2) how they ended up in their current living situation, and 3) the important-to-the-plot-reason she ran away in the first place.

    The problem, though, is that I really like the beginning of the story as it is. It introduces the main character and the friend in a less than desirable but status quo setting. It's a perfect set up for the big catalyst that really gets the story going. I'm hesitant to add too much more at the beginning.

    Maybe revealing bits and pieces as the story moves along is the way to go?

    Elgaisma, I think you might be right. I just need to keep writing the first draft and do the editing later. I can always rewrite and take out whatever doesn't work. I guess I'm just a little discouraged because things were going along smoothly until I realized the back story situation. And now I'm letting it trip me up.

    Thank you all for the advice!
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    My first drafts are rubbish, they are meant to be rubbish. With my first novel I referred to my first draft about three times when I rewrote the story, only a scene involving my main character and his then girlfriend, and their coronation scene remain in tact from it.

    My second novel I reckon will be the same. The story is great I am really pleased with it, but the execution is rubbish. I'll carve the story out of it later.

    Just don't expect too much out of your first draft. Can you introduce a confidante like a priest, counsellor, social worker etc?
     
  10. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I had that same thing with my latest novel - it wasn't that I had too much backstory, it was just that starting in the middle was the best place. So I just told a lot through flashbacks. Like, whole scenes set in the past few months. Older stuff mixed in with present narrative, though not in an exposition-y way, just an action-y way. Like... if I had something small and reasonably unimportant, I'd throw it in as exposition... Like, hmm. I'll just post quotes since I'm tired and can't think.

    Exposition-y unimportant-ish backstory reveal which I only allowed in 'cause this story is so flashback heavy by that point it was just "why not"? :p

    Then for stuff which was quite important I'd mix it in as action:

    etc, into 600 words of flashback before snapping back to Markus in his room at his computer.

    And at the halfway point I finally break radio silence on the events everyone was referring to but not mentioning, and have 12 full-length scenes which apart from a few opening/closing lines, don't even mention the fact that the plot carries on past that point. :p

    The only thing is you have to plan and know EXACTLY what is important. There's so much I would have added if I'd written it chronologically, just 'cause I wouldn't have been thinking about keeping it all neat and tidy so I could jump around without confusing people. For instance, I would have assumed the only flashbacks I'd need is the ones to a very long-ago event... As it was, I only referenced it twice - once a single line in conversation, and once as a paragraph of Alex's inner thoughts in between events with Markus.
     
  11. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I definitely agree with the fact that the method of "Bob, let's talk about my childhood and history, _____________________" method is a really bad idea.

    I was thinking more along the lines of bits and pieces here and there. I.e.:

    Bob: "It's really nice out here."
    Jack: "Yeah, well, it brings back some hard memories."
    Bob: "If it reminds you too much of your sister, we can leave."
    Jack: "I'm fine. It's been three years since she died, I need to get used to it."

    Etc. And then the scene moves onwards. No big speeces or history diatribes. Just strategically weave in stuff like that here and there when you need it.
     
  12. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Hi, Alabamarain.

    First, you should try to finish your backstory. I know it's tempting to just jump right on in, but you can't swim before you learn, right? By doing this, you'll learn a lot more about your characters, and you'll be able to take advantage of that knowledge. This inside scoop will enable you to incorporate little details into your story that may seem insignificant, but are, in the long run, poignant to your story.

    Then start "showing, not telling" as you were saying before. (I know, it's so cliché by now) :)

    For example, say a young girl is horrifically scared of thunderstorms. This is due to the fact that her own dog was struck dead when she was five. Not to mention, she saw the whole thing occur before her eyes.

    Now say, this one evening a storm picks up. White wires flash across the sky. The girl's older brother and sister can't resist the display so they get up close to a window. But, being freakishly terrified, the young screams for them to get away from the dinky, square window. They won't. They keep watching. So she grabs hold of her older brother's arm and pulls with all her might, shrieking at the same time.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know something is behind the girl’s fear. Something must have happened for her to act this way.

    Do the back story, and the rest should come more easily.

    I do hope this helps ya. Sorry for such a long comment! :D

    T
     
  13. alabamarain
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    alabamarain New Member

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    Great advice! Thank you all. My main character's back story is pretty much finished, but I definitely need to better develop those of the minor characters. I'm still getting to know them.

    Last night as I was writing, I had a break through and figured out how to fix one of the scenes that was too heavy with back story "info dump." Mallory, I did something similar to the example you gave. It improved the flow of the scene 100%, and I'm really pleased with the way it turned out.
     

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