B is for Backstory #atozchallenge

Day two, which means we’re on the letter B. Hmmm B…. Battlestar Galactica….bananas… blocks…. backstory!

All right, let’s talk backstory. Wooooo backstory! I’m way to jazzed about this. Need coffee. Wait, that’s a C. Anyway!

As a writer who is interested in fantastical and futuristic settings, backstory is addictive. Coming up with all the little details gets me thinking about the character’s motivations, how it all affects the plot’s arc, and how everyone and everything got to this point of things going horribly wrong. It also affects world building elements. Such as why a particular alien society is the way it is, how the space ships get to where there going, and on and on.

It’s extremely easy to just get lost in all this information and just keep building it and building it… and building it… You can see where I’m going with this, right?

What happened to the actual story I’m trying to tell? Should I just write a novel about the backstory? No! (Well, maybe. But only if it turns out to be more interesting than your original idea and don’t get lost in the backstory of the backstory because this could all be a sneaky trap.)

trap

Anyway, I finally get to the actual writing of the story I want to tell, and I have ALL of these details about everyone. My main character likes the color purple because he fancies himself a Roman senator, and my villain who never actually knew her family has this super complicated and icky family history. And some guy down the street is currently coming up with a ground breaking theory about space and time, and his day job is as a janitor. And that’s around where it gets problematic.

I may know all of this extraneous information, but unless it actually has something to do with what is happening in the story, I have to leave it out. Maybe that janitor has great ideas, but unless he’s in the story or his ideas impact something in the story, I have to just leave him out. Maybe one of my characters knows the janitor, and heard about the idea, and it changes how she reacts to something. Unfortunately, if it isn’t relevant, I just have to let the “oh but this is so cool!” bit go.

Of course, there are ALWAYS moments in a story when backstory is necessary, but how it’s brought in needs to be handled so carefully. Info-dumping is something I am trying so hard to minimize. Instead, I’m figuring out ways to drop tidbits in conversation (if it’s relevant and the characters don’t all already know about it), and in the actions of characters. And I have keep my eye out for the accidental meander into irrelevant history. Even if it’s super awesome juicy gossip in my imaginary world. Le sigh.

How do you like to handle backstory within your story? Or if you’re a reader, is this something you’ve seen done well, and where did you see it?

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17 Comments Add yours

  1. Rian Durant says:

    A post that made me smile. Backstory is addictive most of the times for me as well. I usually try to contain it within few scattered sentences (info dumps are something I hate). I’m okay with flashback chapters, too. But if someone’s backstory becomes really intriguing… Then it’s definitely a spinoff. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clarice says:

      Oooo spinoff! I like it! And yeah, infodumps are something I run into all the time, but I almost wonder if it bothers me when it’s not handled well as opposed to when it is seamlessly dumped in there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rian Durant says:

        In all cases it depends how it’s done. Because sometimes it reads like a bad newspaper article and that’s when I cringe.

        Like

      2. Clarice says:

        So true. “Headline news! Read all about the entire history of your villain and why they’re a mess and how your hero is going to win! (It’s because your villain REALLY loves kittens.)”

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Alexis says:

    I usually end up writing an info dump, cutting it out and saving it elsewhere, and then pasting a sentence here and there as needed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Clarice says:

      That’s a good tip. I also like doing that for “scenes that don’t make sense to keep, but I really love them for whatever reason”. Heh.

      Like

  3. Hmm. Sometimes backstory can be a whole other book. Diana Gabaldon comes to mind. You are making me want to start another novel. But I think I will wait until November 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clarice says:

      Hehe! Yeah, for sure it can! But then you have to decide which book you’re writing. I still haven’t read Diana Gabaldon. Does she do this?

      Like

      1. One of my friends says they are too wordy for her, but I love all of her words. You are never left wondering anything, that is for sure. I adore her books, but they are really in a category all their own. It is hard to describe.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Alex says:

    Backstory and world building are difficult for me. I tend to write contemporary and realistic, but even so it’s something I could work on. Heck, even in the fantasy novella series I’m currently planning the world is soulconnected to the real world and therefore reflects it. That’s about as much as I can deal with world building, especially for longer works. I have a short scifi story in progress and it’s overwhelming me because it’s heavily theoretical. Plus some language problems it has. Even so,I’m very excited for it (that’s all that matters!) and hope to get it written out after the madness of April is over.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clarice says:

      Yes! I also feel like not every story needs a ton of backstory. Figuring it out as you go, whether in the outlining or planning stage, or later while writing, works too and I’ve definitely done that in some cases! Oh, a short scifi story, eh? Looking forward to hearing more about it!

      Like

  5. jeremywkerr says:

    I suck at backstory…which is why I’ll be stealing this as my letter B. It’s something I really need to improve, and I don’t think I realized that until reading your relationship with it and how much you create. When it comes to too little or too much, I can tell you now which one will quickly slow down writing a story. (Hint: it’s not yours)

    The best cheat of backstory I ever read was Wizard and Glass, the 4th book in the Dark Tower series. The main character of the series uses book 4 to tell the story of his childhood. Brilliant, really. But of course we can’t all do that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clarice says:

      Ha! I love that cheat. It sort of fits with the spinoff that Rian mentioned.

      Backstory is something I have fun with, but it can definitely get out of hand. Hehe.

      Like

  6. Yvonne V says:

    I agree — infodumps are bad in the finished work, though sometimes helpful in the crappy first draft! And letting the cool bits go can be so hard!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clarice says:

      I have so many darlings, and I just hug them and squeeze them and then stick them in a new document and remove them from the original. Sigh. Hehe.

      Like

  7. Frantic Fox says:

    I’m actually really struggling with this bit of my writing. How much information is enough? How much of it is too much. I’ve never really taken on a writing project before so this is my first. I have a LOT to learn XD

    Liked by 1 person

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