by Lori Freeland
My favorite line from Tangled is when Flynn Rider tells Rapunzel, “I don’t do backstory.” To me, it sets the tone for who he is and how he’s going to change. His past is his past, and he refuses to dump it on anyone—even himself. And that is his backstory.
Backstory is everything that’s happened in your characters’ lives up to the moment we meet them. It’s the people, places, and events he’s experienced. The family and friends she did or didn’t have. How his parents raised him. The way her childhood illness colored her world.
Like real people, your characters have a past. It’s what’s shaped them into who they are and what pushes them up and over their character arc into who they’re supposed to become.
If we share too much too fast, it pulls the reader back in time and slows down the story’s pacing. If we share too little too late, it leaves the reader confused and your characters hollow.
The same way that it’s hard to connect with shallow people in real life, it’s hard to connect with hollow characters in a book. Also, remember, backstory is mostly telling rather than showing. That’s okay sometimes, but too much telling runs the risk of readers skimming your pages.
Backstory. You can’t write with it. You can’t write without it. So how do you sidestep the information dump and slip subtly into the middle ground?
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