Monday, June 13, 2011

Cutting Back on Backstory

Is your story a victim of backstory dumps? Here’s a list to help you find and destroy SOME of that nasty backstory that should really stay hidden.

-Go through your first fifty pages and highlight all the backstory. Cut whatever isn’t absolutely essential. Meaning: just because it’s interesting doesn’t mean the reader NEEDS to know about it.

-Chop what’s left into small, manageable bits.

-Change things around. Try not to have all the backstory as narrative. Instead, have some of the past told through dialogue or flashbacks (but limit the flashbacks.)

-Try to hold back some information and refrain from the too-much-too-soon syndrome.

-Don’t dump backstory after a new character is introduced. Slowly, show the reader what this character is all about.

-When using dialogue to tell backstory, avoid using “Remember…” or “As you know…”

-Make sure the backstory isn’t in a big chunk or it’ll slow the story. Imagine your story as if it’s being told on a walking conveyor belt (like at the airport). Anytime you talk about the past (backstory), you have to get off the conveyor belt and go in the other direction. If you do that too often or for too long, your story won’t go anywhere (but you’re reader will—she’ll find another book.)

What are other hints writers can use to identify backstory? How do you know how much to cut? What are some of the worst examples of too much backstory that you’ve seen?

Lynnette Labelle


  1. Thanks for these tips! I am totally going to keep them in mind while I'm writing my new story. :D

  2. Great tips! Thanks. I try to keep as much backstory out as possible, and if I have to put it in, I try to slip it in through dialogue or a quick peek at a photo.

  3. Great tips! I tend to info dump a lot, it a real struggle for me.