On Monday I posted on 'backstory' from Susan Warren's and Rachel Hauck's writing blog, My Book Therapy. You can read that here. Today's post is about the "breadcrumbs" of backstory:
Dropping Breadcrumbs for effective Backstory
Oh Hansel, I’m so afraid no one will find us!
Never fear, Gretel, we will drop breadcrumbs, and someone will follow…
Let’s say you’re the woodcutter, now wouldn’t YOU be curious to know what is at the end of those breadcrumbs? (Especially if they were, say, Panera bagel breadcrumbs? So I might be a little hungry this morning….).
The key to backstory is dropping just enough crumbs to stir your reader’s hunger for more. You don’t want to give them too much at the beginning, or they’ll get filled up, satisfied, and they won’t have an appetite to finish the journey.
How much backstory should you put into a scene? Just enough to give the reader the information he/she needs to understand/accept the current action and decisions. To embrace the character’s motivations for continuing on in the journey.
For example, let’s say that I have a character who has just inherited a ranch. I might open the scene where she is driving up to the abandoned ranch, looking at the life her uncle left her. Now, I might be tempted to go into a lengthy backstory about how, when she was a child, she loved visiting the ranch, how she chased the prairie dogs and rode horses through the tall grasses, and how it gave her an escape from an alcoholic mother. I might go on to recall a conversation she had with her uncle, how he had one no-account son and she was like a daughter to him. I could even say that she’d spent the last five years as a lawyer in Minneapolis and was burned out after winning a child abuse case and wanted a fresh start because it reminded her too much of her own life. I COULD say all that. But it’s WAY too much information for the beginning of a book, and really, it gives away the punchline. We want our readers to discover all this along the way.
Instead, I’ll pare it down to the essentials: “She couldn’t believe that Uncle Henry had left her the ranch instead of Billy Bob. Nor could she believe she’d abandoned her law practice, especially now, after the victories of her last case. But maybe her uncle knew her better than she knew herself, had heard the silent pleadings of her heart. Even now, the wide expanse of the blue sky filled her soul like a spring breeze after a grueling winter, drawing her back to the land.”
Okay, even that might be too much, (and isn’t especially good writing, sorry) but doesn’t it raise a lot more questions for the reader? What silent pleadings? What case, and why would she leave? Who is Billy Bob? And what happened as a child to keep her tethered to the land? All these questions are bread crumbs to draw the reader further into the story.
Ask yourself: What is the ESSENTIAL information the reader needs to know to give sufficient motivation for the character? What story questions can you drop that will keep the reader interested?
Breadcrumbs: Soft, tasty, SMALL morsels to lure your reader into the story.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about what to do with the REST of the loaf, all the great stuff you just can’t wait to tell your reader (and when to catch them up!)
See Gretel, look at the pretty house….maybe there’s someone inside who will feed us…
Stop Lurking! Every week I will draw names for a free Tricia Goyer book from those who comment on my blogs. Winner's choice! Tell your friends