14: How to Handle Character Backstory in Your Novel
In today's episode, I'm going to walk you through my top three tips for weaving your character's backstory into your novel in a way that engages the reader without bogging them down. Here's a preview of what's included:
[01:20] What is character backstory? Character backstory is everything that has ever happened in your character's life that has helped to influence and shape who they are today, in the “story present.”
[02:20] The biggest mistake writers make when it comes to handling a character's backstory in their novel is they give too much information too soon — or too much information at the wrong time in the story.
[03:20] When you start a story with too much backstory or exposition, it's really hard for a reader to engage in the story and feel that “tug” to turn the page to find out what's going to happen next.
[05:00] Tip #1: Only include backstory where it's relevant to what's happening in the story present. Backstory should always be “triggered” by something that's happening in the present moment of a scene.
[06:00] Tip #2: Avoid info-dumping at all costs. Info-dumping is when a writer dumps a ton of information on the reader at one time. Instead, readers should only know what they need to know at the present moment.
[07:00] Tip #3: Always show how the piece backstory you include affects the point-of-view character. If you stop the forward momentum of the story to include a piece of backstory, make sure you show the reader why it's important and how it impacts the present-day scene or situation your character is in.
[08:00] A quick example of backstory done well from Chapter 7 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone that hits on the above tips.
[09:45] Recommended exercise: Grab one of your favorite books, pick a random page, and see if you can identify bits of backstory that has been woven into the story present.
[10:30] How do you know if the backstory you've already written works? How do you know if it's too much or if it's in the wrong place? Here's a quick process for analyzing the backstory in your draft.
[12:25] Key points and a quick recap of the episode.
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Links mentioned in this episode:
- Episode Freebie: 5 Questions to Help You Analyze Your Backstory PDF
- Recommended Reading: Story Genius by Lisa Cron. This is an amazing craft book that will help you build your character's backstory from the ground up. It's one of my all-time favorites!
P.S. Did you know that I have a Facebook group just for fiction writers? In this private group, we talk about all things writing, editing, and publishing fiction. It's free to join and you can request access here. Hope to see you there!