Once upon a time, the desire for deep friendships made me try too hard. What do I mean by that statement? Within an hour of meeting me, they knew my entire life story from birth to present age.
As writers, we want to share so much about our characters and story world that we use the force-feed method. How our characters grew up, all their traumas, the full panoramic view of their setting flow from our pens - on the first page. Readers like a meaty start, but they don't want the whole steak shoved into their mouths in one sitting.
A little mystery tantalizes the reader and whets their appetite for the next delectable morsel. Inserting a detail that shows the why of a character's behavior/choices can create empathy and understanding.
I've learned that getting to know people and writing a book is like serving a 4-course meal:
1. The appetizer - A little detail after the surface conversation hints at a person's history. In a book, a yummy bit of information prepares the reader for better things to come.
2. The salad - Specific incidents are shared in a budding friendship, and take it to the next level. Answers to one or two early questions have the reader turning pages, so they can find out what motivates each player.
3. The entree - Talks that go beyond day-to-day activities increase understanding. The promise of a tasty, nourishing meal is fulfilled. The story world is fleshed out and the characters' motivations become apparent as their history is artfully plated before the reader.
4. The dessert - The friendship reaches a stage of intimacy where each person knows what makes the other tick. The reader sits back and sighs, eating the confection and sipping the beverage of a story well told.
Writers: How do you handle back story in your books? This principle can apply to non-fiction as well as fiction writers. (Think about memoir writing or using illustrations.)
Readers: How does too much character history affect your reading experience? Does it overwhelm you? Do you continue to read?
Photo Credit: Hobbes Yeo