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 Karen. Karen’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?”
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.