BACKSTORY: INTRIGUING OR BORING?

writing clipartI like to write characters, or read about characters, with a rich backstory. I know writers who construct elaborate backstories for all their major characters. The question is then how, or even if, this backstory is revealed to the reader. I think this is best done slowly

That’s how Brandon Sanderson does it in his sprawling, wondrous Stormlight Archive series. He has two main protagonists Kaladin, an enslaved warrior, and Shallan, a minor noble lady with a gift for drawing. Sanderson’s treatment of them was masterful. When I finished a chapter, I never knew if the next page would carry the story forward, or reveal a peek at Kaladin or Shallan’s past. While I wanted to know what the future held for these characters, I also wanted to know what had led to Kaladin becoming a slave and Shallan who she was.

By comparison, I recently started the first book in science fiction epic series, which will remain unnamed. One chapter consisted of a two-page data dump of the character’s backstory, and then a page of largely forgettable action not essential to the overall story. Soon afterward, I gave up on the book for this and other issues despite liking the co-protagonists. Please, authors, don’t dump backstory on me. Tease me with it little by little.

Backstory fascinates me so much that I made it the crux of my upcoming book Mindfield. In it, the reader and the protagonist will discover his backstory at the same time.

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Filed under Art and Craft of Writing, Mindfield

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