POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE
By Nandy Ekle
“The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.”
One time I read a story with a very complicated plot. A lot of this plot depended on the 200-year family history. The author had an incredible tale, but I was never able to finish it because the first one hundred pages gave the whole history at once. It was a very convoluted history with lots of characters and lots of twists and turns.
This is called information dump. I asked the author about the reason for placing the backstory at the front of the book in one giant swallow and the answer was that it was critical to understanding the present day story. And this was, to some extent, true.
However, there are other ways to accomplish this. If you’ve ever read any Stephen King books, you’ve seen this done brilliantly.
One of his methods is with dialogue. Two who have not seen each other in a while will have a conversation bringing each other up to date on news from the past. This can also be used to drop clues as to the trickier parts of the story.
Another one of Mr. King’s methods is to start the story at a place in the backstory as if it’s happening at that moment. After the pertinent information is out, he flashes forward to the actual story.
Another interesting way to get the history out there for the reader is in dreams. This can be fund because dreams are symbolic and just about anything can be used to transfer the important history.
And, of course, there’s always flashbacks. But always remember, elephants are best eaten one bite at a time instead of all at once.
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