Any suggestions on how to use dialogue to open up backstory of the main characters of a story.

I'm revising sections of backstory that are information dumps and want to use dialogue to eliminate dump but keep the story moving.


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Well, during an argument is good. You create conflict at the same time that one character (hitting below the belt, justifiably or not) provides the other's backstory. Or, on the flip side, small talk:

"How's your mom?"
"Don't be an asshole. You know she's dead." Ten years ago today, in fact.

If it doesn't seem to fit naturally into the scene/conversation, don't force it.

Thanks for the advice.

The first question you really need to ask yourself is, how much backstory does the reader need to know? We know our characters backwards and forwards, but does the reader really need to? I'm struggling with that problem myself right now. In a perfect world you can hint at a backstory without fully exposing it.

(reposted from a conversation yesterday)
A great example of this is Michael Connelly's "The Black Ice." In an opening scene Harry Bosch is sitting on his deck watching helicopters attempt to extinguish a wildfire. "It reminded him of the dustoffs in Vietnam." **

This simple line adds lets the reader into one of the reasons Harry is Harry, without going into a flashback about the horrors of Vietnam.

**source- "Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America."

I see how that would be more effective as well as helping to define the characters.


Back story works better I think, when it's not in dialog. It's too easy to fall into a "Wellasyouknowbob."

"How's mom doing?"

"Well, as you know, Bob, she's doing quite well."

That's a horrible example, but the point is that it can sound like the characters are trying to tell the reader something rather than each other.

Now, if it's actually part of the scene where one character is telling the other about the past event, then that can work.
I agree with the above, it's tricky as dialog. You might try letting it out in dribs and drabs, taking several conversations to get it all in.
I appreciate all of the input on this subject.


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