Writing Backstory

Hey, I’m Anne Westrick and I talk about writing, and today I want to discuss backstory, which is everything that happens in a novel before the present action. The problem with backstory is that it slows the pace.

Fiction works when readers make an emotional connection with a protagonist and—you know—a heart-connection. Backstory is all in the head. Present action is all heart.

Now of course, writers need to know the backstory to craft fully-formed characters, but once you know it, leave it. If something happens in the present action to trigger the protagonist to remember the past, then bring in the backstory. But to keep the pace from slowing, give readers the emotional truth of that history. Write scenes from the heart, not the head.

This craft tip is the single most valuable tip I have had to learn about writing fiction. And now I’m going back to the page. Bye…

6 thoughts on “Writing Backstory”

    1. Always lovely to hear from you, Maureen! I’m in a constant state of reminding myself about writing techniques that I know, yet still manage sometimes to forget. But then, that’s what the revision stage is for!

      I hope your own writing is going superbly well.

  1. Glad to discover you on YouTube! Great advice! Backstory is so tough. I have had to edit many novels where backstory was shoved into the narrative to the detriment of the story. ?

    1. Thank you, Linda. YouTube has forced me to stretch myself. Ha! (I’m not convinced it’s the best platform for me. I’m still mulling this over.) I hear you about having to edit novels where you’ve shoved in backstory. The good news is recognizing that we’ve made this error and can fix it!

  2. Hello there
    I am a teacher and we are reading your book which is wonderful. I have a student who was out for a long time due to health concerns and he is a struggling reader. I wondered if you had more videos of you reading more of the book or could you perhaps read more

    1. Hello, Cathrin. I’m thrilled that your students are reading Brotherhood. I hope they get a lot out of discussing the many issues raised by the characters’ actions.

      As for videos of me reading more chapters, unfortunately for your student, the answer is no. When it comes to publishing audio versions of a novel, there are complex copyright issues regarding what’s allowed. I thought that reading the first chapter would be acceptable (just as it’s acceptable for Amazon to post the first chapter of a book), so that’s what I did. Might a fellow student be willing to read chapters out loud to your student? Or a family member, perhaps?

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