Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Backstory Part 2 - Using Flashbacks and more

How to use backstory... 

As discussed in the last blog, backstory is essential to the author but only parts of it are relevant to the story and important for the reader. Here are a few ways to weave backstory into your novel without overwhelming the reader and bringing your pace to a screeching halt.

Use an internal thought clue.

Why did I allow Karen to boss me around? She is not my step-mom, and I’m not a kid.

Use a comment by another character.

“Oh, her step mother was a witch, almost six feet tall and a control freak.”

Use a BRIEF flashback. 

The well done flashback starts with a current day action, is brief, triggered by one of the senses, and ends with a return to current day action. Use past pluperfect to signal the start and end of the flashback and use simple past tense in between.

Entrance action – Jane turns and runs into Karen.
Emotional trigger - Smells the floral perfume.
Flashback - Remembers the last time she smelled that scent and the emotion involved.
Exit action- Jane blinks and steps back.

  • Jane turned and found herself eye to chest with KarenKaren’s perfume, floral, unsuitable to a business woman’s demeanour, swirled around Jane. Her step mother had been wearing floral perfume the last time saw her. Jane brought her hand to her face, covering the sting of her mother’s slap. “Brainless little twit,” her step-mother said, “who do you think you are?” The words had hurt more than the slap. They still hurt. Jane blinked, stepped back, and looked up at Karen’s face. “What do you want?”

Use Conversation

Incorporate information into a conversation, but be sure it is relevant to current plot or character development. Beware of characters discussing details they both already know. That's a conversation sure to stop story action. The conversation method works well if a character AND THE READER don't already know the information but need to know for the story to continue.

Backstory is a meal best served in small portions.


  1. A very good article. Back story if not done properly can really distract from a story and sometimes feels like it should be two different stories to me.

  2. Generally the difficulty arises when the author is not sure where their story starts. If you have an inciting incident and the "hook" in place, and move forward sequentially with a fast pace, your story can work wherever it starts. Romances usually have the hero and heroine meet in the first scene or two and mysteries usually launch with the murder, the discovery of the murder or the reporting of it. However all "rules" are only tools although it's wise to adhere to genre conventions and give the readers what they expect.