Sunday, December 6, 2015

Backstory Issues

In the latest revision of the draft novel I needed to  give the reader a lot of history to explain the importance of a fifteenth century artifact and the forces surrounding its possession through the years until the present day. At first I thought this would be a simple matter, a couple of flashbacks here and there.

In the first draft I put a long explanatory section at the beginning as prelude.  Later, I had to inject yet another bit of history, but rather longer. Then there was the third.... Well, you can see where this is going.

In the second draft I pulled all of the flashback material out and to my amazement discovered that it was a bit over ten thousand words in toto.  That's a big lump of backstory that has to go somewhere, and rather too much to be handled as footnotes.

For the next revision I tried putting little snippets between certain chapters, originally thinking I could make them all less than a thousand words but only later to see that that limit would split the more interesting parts strangely. For continuity some of these intermediaries would be well over the thousand word limit while others would fall woefully short.

I even considered putting the whole backstory in an appendix, but worried that would remove the facts from their relevance. I even considered putting superscripts here and there and keying them to an enumerated appendix, but dismissed that as too confusing for the reader.

So the question that remains is this: Is there a good way to present a lot of backstory that doesn't bore the reader and take them out of the story? Is there a rule I could follow?

And after writing for twenty-five years, this writing business never fails to present new problems. When will I ever learn to do it well?


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