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Posts Tagged ‘brevity is an authors virtue’

Continuing our theme of introductions, let us talk about The Backstory Introduction.

There is nothing quite so powerful as a story. A well-told backstory is especially strong. While there are different types of backstories, a general rule is that it should allude to a lifetime of information and character development without taking up pages and pages.

The character backstory describes a specific event (likely traumatic) in the main character or hero’s life. This gives the reader perspective, from the beginning, on why the character is the way he is. It can be helpful when the character is tough and unlikeable. Similarly, when the story is set in the past, the character backstory can set the stage with political and geographical facts. Examples might be the car crash of the detective’s wife or the day his daughter was born. Seeing how he handles pressure in the first scene and how his family is (or is not) his priority in the second tells the reader big things about the character.

The legend backstory is what I used for each book in The Xsardis Chronicles. It alluded to the moral of the story; it told of the past heroes of Xsardis; it gave the land depth and history; and it showed some principles about my world that it would have been hard to otherwise detail. It also set the field as a medieval world, despite the fact that my first chapter would open on Earth.

The historical backstory can be real or imagined. It will tell of an event that happened before the story took place. It will not follow any living characters on which the book focuses–although it might incorporate deceased relatives. This is useful for treasure hunting tales and stories that need to incorporate background information that the narrator of the tale does not know.

These are three common backstory introductions. They each take on a unique shape; and they each borrow from each other. Here are some cautions when using them. 1. They can be boring–especially the legend backstory. What you find interesting about battles and lore may completely bore the reader. And since your introduction is at the beginning of your book, this can stop a reader before she even gives you a real chance. So be careful. How? Ask readers’ opinions and (like with the foreshadow introduction) be willing to cut your intro. Also frame the story with something interesting. The introductions of Issym, Asandra, and Xsardis were narrated by Reesthma and Joppa, who told their tales while adventure and death crouched at their door. This added drama to the story. 2. Accuracy can be hard to maintain. Every introduction you write sets the stage for the rest of your book. Maintaining the integrity of your book in this context–which is removed from the rest of your book–can be a challenge. Spend time and painstakingly be sure that every fact you share in the intro is accurate Look ahead to what books will come next in your series. Does this information still fit? 3. Brevity is an author’s virtue. Introductions tend to lag on. No matter how interesting your backstory, it is NOT the story. Readers want to get something from the backstory, then get to the real tale. So keep it short. A well-told, short backstory has every possibility to endear your reader, make them love your style, give your story and your world depth, and excite the whole book. A long and/or boring tale will do just the opposite. It’s the kiss of death.

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