Backstory: When and How Much?

Every author is a connoisseur of story. The problem can become where to begin our wonderful tales, and how much stuff that happened to our characters before the story started do we need to tell our readers so they can understand what is going on now and why it’s happening.

There are two basic types of fiction writers: those who write bare-bones, plot-based first drafts, and those who write extremely detailed first drafts. I am the latter. This has been a problem ever since high school, where a three-page assignment turned into five. . .or ten. In my Spanish literature class at Purdue, we were assigned a short story. Most students ended up with five to ten paragraphs. My story was ten pages. (Sorry, Professor.)

There hasn’t been a manuscript yet (I’ve completed five so far.) that ended with not enough words. So, I inevitably end up looking for scenes to cut. My current WIP is a young adult fantasy. The optimal word length is 90,000-95,000 words. Mine is at 199,976. And that’s after I changed my ending place which shaved off over 40k words, and then cut over six thousand more in edits.

What did I cut? Backstory.

I cut three chapters that were all about the younger lives of the main characters. It was so hard to do. I had worked hard on those chapters. I liked the writing in those chapters, but they didn’t really need to be there. I took some of the information and placed it strategically within the later writing, but, while the scenes are interesting, they are not vital. We don’t need them to understand the story. I wasn’t able to cut these chapters under my own power. I have to have a fellow writer whose judgment I respect tell me to cut them. It is so important to let others read your work. I knew they needed to go, but I needed another person to confirm my thoughts and convince me to actually hit delete.

There is a time to leave the past behind. My heroine, Rowan, tries to tell this to the main hero, Birk, as he struggles with his past. Here is an excerpt:

Rowan twisted toward Birk, and he placed a kiss on her forehead. Her eyes closed at the gentleness and regret within it. A fierce determination wrenched open her eyes. She fixed him with her gaze. “The Patterner doesn’t care about your past, and neither do I. There is darkness born of shame and regret within all of us, but the truth and acceptance of the Patterner is greater than the lies and separation of the Destructor.”

As Rowan said, we all have darkness in our past, but on this Easter, we can look to a future of goodness and light if we choose to follow Jesus. If we believe that his resurrection was accomplished through power he gives to each of his followers. We can celebrate this day after the evil of the cross and the darkness of the tomb as a day that proves our God is Greater! Our God is Alive! Our God has not forsaken his children nor condemned us to live in torment.

To claim the mercy, grace and forgiveness we are promised, we must choose Jesus as our Savior. I pray that you know Jesus. If not, it is not too late. Connect with someone today who can lead you to the Bible and Jesus. In this time of social distancing it is easier than ever to find a church online and many are providing ways for connection even in this time of distance.

I’m praying for you, my faithful readers.

May the glory and peace of the Resurrection surround you on this joyous day!

Happy and Blessed Easter

Cover Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash