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I've been creative writing all my life, though with various haitus(es) along the way. IFrom 2010 I started this blog and enjoyed sharing writing and other information with everyone. illness and bereavement supplied the more recent hiatus.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

B: Backstory

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

All short stories, plays, and novels need backstories, however,I've just been reading 'Writing the Breakout Novel' and the author,
Donald Maas suggests that backstory should not be necessary until the fourth chapter at least.

I'm going to have to rethink how I structure my WIP.

He believes that witholding the backstory creates more tension and intrigue.
By all means hint at it, but don't fill the reader in until it's absolutely necessary.

I have also heard that backstory should not appear in a short story in the first page.

I referred to a map for my WIP which is set in London to find out if one of my MC's could walk to where I wanted him to go easily and yes it worked and then I scrapped the first 2 chapters and started with Chapter Three so the reader isn't bored with the stuff about his walk . So I guess that is backstory that I needed to develop the story that I don't need to share completely with the readers, but allows me to know the direction my plot has taken.

Have you included backstory information early on in your novel?

Check out fellow A-Z Blogger MoodyWriting for another great
back story post.
C my next A-Z post on Monday


  1. Do you rate that book, Madeleine? I've heard about it a few times. I'm thinking about writing a novel (again). I need all the help I can get.

  2. Yes I think it is a good book Deborah and the OU book Creative Writing. See: http://scribbleandedit.blogspot.com/p/how-to-brilliance.html for others :O)

  3. Hi Madeleine
    Great post, especially as I've been musing a lot on back stories myself lately. I've heard it said that, with short stories in particular, provided the author knows it, and it's 'grounding' the story in his or her own mind, the degree to which the it manifests itself on the page is a matter of what's appropriate for that particular piece?
    Thanks for the food for thought!
    All best

  4. Wonderful, thanks, Madeleine. I'm going to treat myelf.

  5. Hi,

    Oh these new fads and bl**dy rules are a pain in the Butt! Who thinks them up, who sets them out to trip up newbie authors? It's all a ruse to confuse, and in the interim a relatively unknown author becomes a guru of "How To" or a famed author sees it as a cunning device to scare off potential upcoming competition! ;)

    All things in moderation is the key to writing, to hell with psuedo rule makers.


  6. Great B! :)

    I try not to do info dumps in the first chapter, and to reveal back story bit by bit. It's HARD!

    PS - I didn't know you were Canadian by birth! I knew there was a reason I liked you so much! :)

  7. I've learnt that backstory is more effective if it's trickled in, one small dose at a time, rather than as a huge chunk which interrupts the flow of the 'present' story.
    I'm not sure I agree with leaving it to the 4th chapter though. I get irritated if there are too many 'hints' before I find out what really happened in the past!

  8. Nice to meet you - interesting B. I'm no writer - more of a reader, but it's really intriguing to see it (the book creation process) from a different point of view. Thank you.

  9. Great choice! I have 2 wips. For the first, I've not included any of the backstories, but I've given a lot of thought to the how and when of including them-they're pretty important. The nano novel I included a tiny bit here and there, then the rest about midway through....

  10. In my first chapter and boy oh boy was the editing painful!! LOL!!!!

    Yay for a really sober writerly B word!!! Take care

  11. What really helped me was listening to what I tell people when they ask me what my story is about. The first thing you say is usually the crux of the story, and that therefore should be where the story actually starts as all else is back story. At least, it worked for me!

    Your blog is one of my highlights on my post today! :)

  12. I was definitely guilty of info dumps when I first started out writing. This was one area I focused on and have since gotten a lot better, but it's still tough. I try to find a balance of scattering little nuggets of backstory through description, dialogue, and then some small info chunks (as appropriate).

    We writers have to balance so many rules and tricks and methods, huh?

  13. Hmm... In the WiP I've just finished I've got little bits of backstory here and there in the first chapter. I'm hoping that's okay. In the new WiP I've just started I've got backstory within the first page. Oops!

  14. Fourth chapter? Wow. I do think this depends on the genre. Contemporary could work, but I tried to go light on backstory in my Sci-fi WIP, and my agent asked me to add more.

    That being said, info dumps almost always annoy me when reading, whether it's the first or last chapter.

  15. Dealing with the back story can be a challenge...but that's where our creativity comes in. LOL. Great blog! I'm a follower and fellow writer.

  16. Helpful posts! I look forward to the rest! I like sneaking in backstory information, rather than just explaining everything in the beginning. I don't want potential readers thinking "well, it'll get better once I get past this part." I'm with Jennifer Hoffine: Info dumps are annoying. (So are scenery dumps.) :-)

  17. Wow Dawn, I am impressed. I don't feel qualified at the moment to try accents myself.

    Yes I tend to skip/skim great chunks of text if they appear to be fillers/info dumps that aren't really moving the action along. I may have to rethink my Chapter 2 now, oops :O)

  18. I try to keep backstory away until at least the third chapter for sure. It's hard at times but I like to get the story started first before going back.

  19. Great "B", Madeleine! I love characters with a good backstory. When writing, I try to create a backstory for all the relevant characters. Sometimes the information comes into play, sometimes it's just an extra something to have. Either way, whether the reader will end up seeing it or not, it helps me figure out who my character is, and their motivations.

  20. I'm not a writer but I read a lot of novels. I prefer my backstory to come out slowly and almost from the beginning. If it's withheld for too long I may lose interest in the characters.

  21. I like backstory to be hinted at here and there. A very thought provoking post for today's challenge. Thanks!

  22. I'm in awe; I received the workbook in the mail today! I just glanced it; didn't get the Book, but may have to now! Nice post~

  23. Guitly as charged - I have been known to put backstory in too soon (blush).

    Great post, Madeleine.


  24. I'm not a writer, but I like to read. Great post!

    looking forward to the rest of your alphabet

  25. I'm learning that I over-write. That is, I just let myself go, write what turns into back story, and discover where my story actually starts a little later on.

    Then I have to be willing to chuck the stuff I don't need.

    A Piece of My Mind

  26. I definitely used to be guilty of this until I started reading my writing out loud and bored myself!

    Great post :o)

  27. My first novel (lying in my desk drawer) had long pages of backstory. When I revisited it years back I cringed and squirmed, it was atrocious. Nowadays I avoid adding backstory in the first few chapters.

  28. Great post, Madeleine!

    I have backstory in my head but it only goes on the page if it relevant to the scene at hand or to occasional tease the reader with information about the MCs.

  29. Oh, this post is great. Having only just started writing, this kind of information is terrific. I recently gave my WIP to my husband to read and the first thing he mentioned was the two pages I dedicated to minor characters. I realised that what I thought was relevant back story was just me getting to know my characters. It was a big chunk to let go, but if I'm honest was a whole lot of boring guff. Perhaps I should have planned it a bit better?

  30. I ended up scratching my first three chapters too. I should really read this book. I've been meaning to but still haven't gotten around to it. Great post.

  31. Yikes! Better review my works too.

    Great post. Just dropped by and see you're doing the challenge too.

    Best of luck with it.

    warm wishes

  32. I don't think I agree about leaving backstory until the fourth chapter - but then I don't really like rules at all! I do agree with Paula and Septembermom about trickling in the backstory, with hints here and there. In the end I suppose it all depends on what's right for that particular book, and also on how long those chapters are.

  33. I don't have backstory until the middle of the book. Actually, I might want to spread out the release a little bit. Great B!

  34. I try to withhold the back story but I usually let some of it leak out earlier.


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