Tuesday, August 15, 2017


by Paul Bishop

In fiction, backstory is what has happened prior to the current narrative frame of the story—the history created for a fictional character or situation. Properly used, it enriches a story by revealing cause and effect. Improperly used, it is a cumbersome boring information dump of exposition.

My first novel, Shroud of Vengeance, was part of an ongoing western series featuring a character named Diamondback. The books in the series were written by several different authors using a publishing house owned pseudonym. The editor gave me the bible for the series, which provided the limited information needed as part of the character’s backstory: Diamondback got his nickname after being the victim of a horrible whipping; he is wanted for a murder he didn’t commit; he wanders the West acting as a travelling judge settling disputes between outlaws and he is popular with the ladies.

The goal was to include this background information in an unobtrusive manner enabling the books to be read in any order without intrusive information dumps or large chunks of narrative explanation. Drop the nickname on the first page, show his scars when he takes off his shirt, and tie the plot into a dispute between dangerous outlaws for Diamondback to settle. With a series of this type, the main character remains static. There are no consequences or character arcs to carry over from one book to the next—as if each was a standalone novel.

Until the last decade most television series were also examples of this type of storytelling. This was perfect for reruns, as series could be shown in any order. Think about I Love Lucy. It doesn’t matter which episode a viewer watches, the set-up is immediately clear—wacky redhead doing wacky things. There is no need to know what has happened in prior episodes. There are no ongoing storylines to confuse the narrative if episodes are shown out of order. Many, many mystery and cop shows operated, and still operate, on the same principle. However, times have changed. Now, books and many of the most popular television series thrive on ongoing storylines continuing from episode to episode, or book to book, to maintain viewer/reader loyalty.

Read the full article: https://www.bibliorati.com/single-post/2017/07/25/AVOIDING-THE-CURSE-OF-BACKSTORY-INFO-DUMPS

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