HomeWritersLiterary AgentsEditorsPublishersResourcesDiscussion
Forum Login | Join the discussion
+ Reply to Thread
Page 1 of 5 1 2 3 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 43
  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Location
    NE Pennsylvania
    Posts
    176

    a question of "back story"

    I noticed the word "back story" gets alot of attention regarding the overuse of it in books and novels. However, a query is written on one page and a synopsis, at least the good ones, not much more. Given that, isn't most of a novel "back story"? For example, Stephen King's The Stand was an incredibly long (but very good) story that could have been told in less than half of the book's length... the mood, or back story, kept the reader in the game.



  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Ohio
    Posts
    3,900
    Given that, isn't most of a novel "back story"?
    There may be back story IN the novel, but "most of" the the novel shouldn't be back story. Brilliant exceptions excluded, of course.

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Posts
    463
    JD,

    From the nature of your question, I wonder if you understand what back story is. A good story has forward motion that propels the action (both internal and external) in the real-time of the world created. "Back story" refers to the events that happened before the inciting moment (the catalyst for the story to begin). If you look at King's book, The Stand, the inciting event is the guy who escapes from the lab infected with the Super Flu. That sets the rest of the story into motion. From what I remember of the book, there is almost no back story--other than brief references to the Dark Man--but he is also present in the real time of the story. Can you give me an example of what you think the back story is in King's book?

    Just trying to sort out how to answer your question...

    Jeanne

  4. #4
    Visiting Tralfamadore
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Posts
    340
    The mood or back story is the underlying theme of the novel. If it's well written, regardless of length, it'll keep the readers wanting to turn the pages. Think of the back story as history. Condense it [the story] into something palpable, and you'll see that a query is there...hook, line and sinker.

  5. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Location
    NE Pennsylvania
    Posts
    176
    Quote Originally Posted by Jeanne Gassman View Post
    JD,

    From the nature of your question, I wonder if you understand what back story is. A good story has forward motion that propels the action (both internal and external) in the real-time of the world created. "Back story" refers to the events that happened before the inciting moment (the catalyst for the story to begin). If you look at King's book, The Stand, the inciting event is the guy who escapes from the lab infected with the Super Flu. That sets the rest of the story into motion. From what I remember of the book, there is almost no back story--other than brief references to the Dark Man--but he is also present in the real time of the story. Can you give me an example of what you think the back story is in King's book?

    Just trying to sort out how to answer your question...

    Jeanne
    Hi Jeanne,

    The back story is the mood of the story, the development of characters and the backdrop of the plot, and yes, should move the plot forward using those key elements. Without it, books would read like an essay, which I believe is reason the query and synopsis comes as such a difficult task to many people. The back story is the "color" of the novel itself. King's 'The Stand' does an excellent job at using this to advance the plot, but also, there's probably 300 plus pages that could be eliminated if it were not for the back story. A better example might even by Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. This entire classic could, in my opinion, be combined into one book. However, Tolkien masterfully uses a series of small back stories and countless descriptions of back drops to support the mood of the book, which in the end result, made it a classic. Heller's Catch-22 might even take this further in ways. His main character, Yossarian, wants to get out of the military and is surrounded by a horde of unbalanced characters... I love that book because it falls in line with my sense of the absurd in my book, Snaggler's Paradise, but in a matter of speaking, it is full scope of the book. So essentially I agree with you. The back story (or back stories that develop) should always advance the characterization and the mood, but in the end, just like a query or synopsis, that element is the 'color' of the story and without it, there is no novel. That of course is just an opinion and I could be totally wrong... lol

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Posts
    463
    We may dealing with semantics here, but I'm not sure that is how I would qualify "back story." I've been taught that back story is:

    The experiences of a character or the circumstances of an event that occur before the action or narrative of a literary, cinematic, or dramatic work.

    It's not theme or color or mood but actual events that occurred before the present narrative of the story. That is why authors are advised not to use too much back story in their work. Back story that fills in the history essentially stops the forward movement, forcing the reader to go back in time before the crisis at hand. In some cases, it even moves the narrative backward.

    All books have some back story, but to be effective, they are fed to the reader in small bites, usually as a brief reflection on the current narrative. And those small bites must have relevance to the narrative. If not, they become self-indulgent side tales that pull the reader out of the main story or plot.

    If you are thinking of back story as color, theme, or mood, then I can understand why you are confused about cautions against its use.

    I have to go teach a class, but if I have time later today, I'll see if I can find a good example of back story.

    Jeanne

  7. #7
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Ohio
    Posts
    3,900
    The experiences of a character or the circumstances of an event that occur before the action or narrative of a literary, cinematic, or dramatic work.
    Exactly. I was somewhat confused by the question myself.

  8. #8
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Location
    NE Pennsylvania
    Posts
    176
    All in all I think we're both saying the same thing Jeanne, except that I feel everything meshes together, and the back story is (or can be) part of the color or mood of the story. To be honest, most stories were told over and over (and over) again, the only difference being in the way that they are told. I also agree with you that too much of it can stop the forward progress, although in some instances, the forward progress hinges on what happened in the past or other events that transpired.

    Perhaps the single most problem (although I don't really consider it a problem) in my book is that one of the very major points in my story is that what (or who) often seems crazy in life, is the sanest thing of all. I introduce a number of somewhat quirky and somewhat unbalanced characters in the book. All of them play a part in what's going on, although a good deal of that part is the initial understanding that they aren't the most well balanced people in the world. It very much at times comes across as back story, although its primarily very essential to the story. This particular book appeared on Amazon sometime ago and actually got rave reviews by their top reviewers and various people, while at the same time of course, it was subject to some very critical and nearly spiteful (I liked that... anytime you can bring out spite, you know you're doing something right) reviews. Often the book reads as a series of epiphanies and despite a strong and somewhat intricate plot, the content is probably best described as literary work of satire rather than a mystery. I don't know... I like it, but I'm not sure an agent would because they may not initially get the concept. I have queried a few times and had some favorable returns, although I haven't been taken on as a client at this point.

    Thanks for your response... good or bad, I always appreciate it and learn something new!

  9. #9
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Location
    NE Pennsylvania
    Posts
    176
    One more thing before I run Jeanne...

    As an example of back story, check out my "running with the devil" thread in the members section of Writing Critique... actually I think you might have done that already. Anyway, it's what I mean by back story more or less. I do try to keep the reader in the game, but what could have been told here or summed up in two paragraphs in many ways, is back story to enhance the story and the mood of the story.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Avonne Writer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Location
    Southern California, USA
    Posts
    1,031
    How I see back story.

    An amputee makes an appearance in the story. The author dedicates a line or a paragraph or more to explain why this character that has appeared is an amputee.

    Our characters do not celebrate Christmas any longer. Back story: Because Mom was killed in a car crash on Christmas day and this needs to be explained in order for the story to make sense.

    But, you can make back story, present tense by taking the reader back in time and moving them forward as if they are in the scene. (This would be more showing back story) Telling back story is just that. Stating why.....

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts