November is a time to be thankful, so that concept has been on my mind most of this month. Of course, like many people, I am thankful for my friends and family. I think that their stories are important and that they themselves help shape me. Even though I love my family and friends, in my real life, they are often the backstory of me - important, but not always in the moment - not always what people want to know about me.
Thus, while loved one are important to us, they may not be so essential to others. The other day I found this out the hard way. I came across a man's professional website while trying to research his credentials. All I wanted to know about this person was his qualifications. However, I had to read, or at least skim, through five whole paragraphs before I found my answers. Even worse, the opening paragraph was all about his family. I might have enjoyed all this information on the man if I had been able to find my answers up front. But no, for nearly five paragraphs, he gave me his backstory. At first I was a bit irritated, but then it made me realize that I am also horribly guilty of giving way too much backstory. Oops!! I did it again didn't I?!
Okay, okay. So what's the deal with the backstory?! I'm not going to say that there is anything wrong with the backstory. I love the backstory!! It can create meaning and understanding, but . . . it can also slow the story's pace and well. . . irritate readers. Thus, I've heard many in the writing community caution against it. Ah shoot, what's a writer to do?
Well, for starters, find out just how important the information is to your story. If it isn't relevant, cut it. I know, I know, that hurts, but your readers will probably thank you for it. Next, make sure each scene has more current action than past action. Give the readers what they want - action - and then sneak in some background history. Weaving the past into the story from time to time will help create a balance between depth and pace. Finally, putting the "meat" of the story up front will satisfy your readers making them curious to find out more. Just don't make the readers work too hard for what they want; believe me they'll get irritated!
So, as you are busy writing and/or editing this month, remember to be thankful for all that is in your life, or even for that which is in your characters' lives, but don't get too bogged down in the backstory. You have a story to tell and it is yours. Now go out there and tell it! And FYI, I really do love backstory so if you ever want to share it, I'd love to hear it!