As writers we all know the importance of Backstory. If done properly backstory can enrich the story, but an overload of it can detract from the main plot. Backstory is like adding salt to a dish. Too much of it and the dish gets spoilt: the excess salt suppresses all other flavours, and too little of salt can do the opposite: no flavour is heightened, the feeling one is left with is that the dish lacked the most vital ingredient.
Why do we use backstory? Because the reader needs to know significant/important things about our character. Why has the character turned bitter, lost his/her will to live, why is he/she over suspicious, why do they have health problems, or don’t trust anyone?
I love adding backstory. I have realized there are many ways to add backstory. I have adopted few of them in my WIP. Here they are:
Via Dialogues. The backstory can make its introduction in the course of conversations. Readers seldom get bored with conversations.
Through short and succinct past visits which can be achieved through what I call- objects that trigger memory prompts. The character chances upon an object from his or her past and it triggers a stream of memory or backstory associated with it.
Through the via via route. A character chances upon a person or object that acts as a trigger for more memories. I would call this Memory Association, associating one thing with another.
Reminicising and nostalgia is another way of adding backstory. This can be achieved by going over past events in a character’s head.
Flashback. This often over used technique should be used sparingly as it requires active use of the passive voice which can slow down the pace of a story.
Using nature, seasons and weather as stimulus. A rainy day can trigger memories of another rainy day, a tree or the chirping of birds can be a backdrop for more backstory.
Taking the Anniversary route. Most people remember the dates when certain incidents happened in their lives. These events or incidents’ anniversaries can be triggers for backstory associated with them.
I sometimes struggle with adding backstory. Either I add too much, or too little. I am trying to find a balance that will keep the reader interest alive and at the same time not weigh the story down.
How do you all add backstory? How much do you think is too much? How much do you think a reader needs to know? What do you do to consciously avoid an excess of backstory? Please share your views and techniques with us. We can learn and improve from your method.
Picture Credit and Copyright Melissa Crytzer Fry