In trying to write my first novel, I find keeping the back story from lapsing into a dull narrarive is difficult. I am trying to keep the back story to a minimum but need a bit of it (say 20%) to explain motivation. Any tricks for keeping the back story as dynamic as the front story?

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I agree as well-- though everyone from my writing group just rolled their eyes. Perhaps this goes to the question of “Openings” in general, and how good the “hook” is and the narrative’s ability to suspend the reader’s disbelief? To my mind the opening should do both those things and adding backstory to the mix feels weighty … too weighty to pull off well. … Backstory feels like “author intrusions” moreover, which are deadly in mysteries. A good piece of advice, I got long ago, was not to underestimate your audience. Especially this audience: mystery readers. They’ll either get it, or think it’s a clue (possible misdirection is always a good thing too). But if you get them with the hook and “disbelief” thing, they’ll give you a pretty good amount of time to fill in the rest.
There is that Dennis Lehane line from an interview a couple of years ago.

"...your audience does not need to know that your character doesn’t like mustard, or even why. But you need to know. "
Personally, I can't see deleting the first chapter and beginning with the second
chapter. What purpose does that serve? My first chapter's opening paragraph is
a murder scene with no introduction of the characters. No names, nothing. Then
later has scenes with dialogue, introducing two characters that one is heart of the
the backstory-- but no one knows until you read further into more chapters and
it unfolds to the reader and comes together.

It's all a big puzzle, and scattering pieces throughout the book, especially through
dialogue, is the way to keep a reader interested, but that puzzle should connect
full-circle to the entire plot and ending..

I completely agree with Karen. Take out all backstory from the first chapter. Open
it with action and no explanations. Let the reader get hooked to find out what's
what and whose who, and then introduce the back story scattering throughout the
book through use of mostly dialogue. I like the characters to tell me what's what.

Bits and pieces here and there as you go, just enough to get the reader asking
himself questions and wanting answers.


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