In a chapter of his workbook, Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass says “Perhaps it is desirable to learn about a protagonist’s past at times, but When?” He illustrates various authors’ methods of inserting backstory by building on a character’s internal problems and deepening the inner conflict Later in the story, not in the first chapters.
Author, Corbette Doyle lists three common Back story methods in order of editorial acceptability in her article “Backstory Without Boredom.” She cites:
1. Weaving the back story into the fabric of the novel
- Past as a present event— In dialogue have one character tell another a story from the past that adds to the present action.
- Implied Past: Expectation—show what a character expects to happen to reveal something about that individual’s past
- Implied Past Networks— Reveal a character’s past through the way others who know the character react to her and treat her.
“I remember catching my first glimpse of
Protagonist, Henry Simms has just come home after graduating medical school. He comes into the parlor as the gentlemen guests are leaving and Edward proudly introduces his son as Doctor. This scene not only fills in time, place, and history for Edward, it establishes a good father-son relationship that Henry feared would be broken by a revelation he’s about to make. When Edward returns from seeing his guests to the door he sees Henry restlessly pacing back and forth in front of the fire. He thinks something is wrong and upon questioning him, Henry replies:
“You see, it’s just that you’ve denied me nothing through all my studies to become a doctor, with the hopes, I’m sure that I would open a practice here in town. But I’ve made a decision to locate elsewhere.”
Throughout my contemporary series, Maine Shore Chronicles, I have applied different methods for backstory. I used a prologue to give a glimpse of time travel that comes later in the story of Book One, Finding Fiona. To acquaint new readers to the characters in my series, or reacquaint those who started with Book One, I used the following approach in Book Two, Moon glade. I think, in a sense, this paraphrase below could be considered applied backstory. See what you think.
“Clare rang the bell and pushed open the door to Maddy and Patrick’s apartment. The long hallway held a gallery of paintings interspersed with framed family photos of Jacques Fontaine, Maddy’s mom, Julie, and Maddy and Clare, all taken in front of Francois’s Fancy. There was a great photo of Paul at the wheel of “Julie’s Dream”. The last picture on the wall was Maddy and Patrick’s wedding portrait. Clare had seen it a dozen times, but could never pass it without pausing.”
The latest installment of my Chronicles series released for sale this month, 11/11.It is Book 3. Promise Keeper. I wove backstory into the fabric of the novel using an introspective approach, blending memories in dialog and inserting memories triggered by objects or images.
“'Never know when you need a port in the storm’ Paul had said. How prophetic, Jacques thought. Paul is just beginning to move about here without help. He swallowed hard, his gaze fixed on a painting at the far end of the room. His first wife’s paintings still lined the walls of the house and memories of her lined his heart. The years could not erase the memories.”
I hope you will look for Promise Keeper. Enjoy the intrigue of this Mystery/Suspense installment and determine if you think I have used “Backstory without Boredom.”