Let me preface my question by saying--wherever it appears, even in the first chapter--I use it sparingly.
Your thoughts, please.
Also comment away on backstory and its uses.
I don't like a lot of it. Not more than a sentence or two.
I prefer my backstory only in snippets, and only when necessary to explain why a character is doing something. But only if something has to be explained. But as someone else said, readers are pretty good at filling in the blanks.
The story is about what happens now, not about what happened then. I'd rather the author SHOW me who the character is rather than tell me why they are the way they are.
And I don't like when the characters themselves slip into recollection about who they once were. I rarely spend time thinking about who I once was, thought sometimes I'll chat about it with husband or a pal, but not while I'm walking down the hall or driving or anything. I could be an oddball in this, but the most I think about who I was is more along the lines of "Heh, to think, I was breifly an optomist. That didn't last. I've got good reason.. stupid school. Shoot, I was going to stop and get gas. I think I have enough to get back to town. I better. I'm not making a left out of there."
Then again, I prefer my characters to read like real people more than characters in a book. But, that's just me.
I also hate when characters admire their features in a mirror... I don't know about the rest of you but I never stand in front of the mirror and think, gee, what lovely long brown hair I have, framing a round face that seems too young for my age. More often, I'm thinking-- god, I look tired again. Stupid rat's nest of hair. Where's my hairbrush, anyway? If I don't get my tailfeathers moving I'm going to be late again.
I guess we see different things when we look in the mirror.
Of course a hugely unhappy woman might look in the mirror to just reassure herself she's still alive as I did once in my life--trying to see past the bleak face that stared back at me. I suppose I was trying to see a self that I felt I'd never see again. But then again, I try to bring personal experience into my characters (for my novel writing).
I suppose Clair, there can be no black and whites--no rules for mirror reflections and so on.
As Somerset Maugham said: "There are three rules for novel writing, unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
But I do thank you for your reply--I just don't happen to agree with some of what you said but, hey! that's just me.
fair point. I know what you mean. It can be annoying. Like Nancy Drew meets Sam Spade, but wants to fluff up her hair first.
Chandler! Now there's an author I love! So agree with your bias.
And to pick up on something I.J. said --a lot of popular authors get away with things perhaps that wouldn't be tolerated by other authors. I suppose there's truth in that, too.
For the 5800 word story I just finished, I had ~1500 words of backstory. Three sentences made it into the submitted story. I used it mainly to help me understand the characters and how they would act/react. In the stories I read, I like to jump into the story and only be told the bits and pieces of backstory that are needed to explain why someone does something. However, most of the time the things they do tell me more than explanations of why they do it.
point well taken.
Yes actions are the best way for the story to move forward.
I like perhaps a sentence or two, not so much backstory--as a sentence as to what makes the character tick. of course, I will re think that perhaps in the final editing!
thanks so much.
Oh Carole, I hope you didn't take me wrong-- I wasn't being snippy-I promise :) -- rather, I am worried that I may have too much bs in my latest WIP which is the second in a series. I keep referring to events in the first one to ground the reader. I am wondering how much of that is really needed. thanks for putting this question out there. It's important :)
sorry! I was hoping I hadn't offended you with my question!
I think there can't really be a rule about it.
It's how backstory is handled, don't you think?
You must tell what's important--for clarification.
And besides, Kim! You're not a newbie like I am!
You're doing things right! I'm just feeling my way around and hoping I get it right when it's finished!
And as for a series and the backstory that's needed to keep the reader following along, sure it's necessary. You've got to do it i would think, definitely!
But in bits maybe. Here and there? so it's not one huge flashback.
I feel I might be presuming too much in giving you my advice on that!
It's just my opinion. I'm sure you're doing it right. It's good to question everything I suppose and then when the dust of your thoughts settle (along with some angst)--it all falls into place.