How to Use Backstory to Keep Readers Reading

How to Use Backstory to Keep Readers Reading

Today, I’m guest posting over on Elizabeth Spann Craig’s blog, with the post  “How to Use Backstory to Keep Readers Reading.” Here’s an excerpt:

Jane Eyre: Writer's Digest Annotated ClassicsBackstory is a weapon. And just like any weapon, it can end up doing more harm than good to those who wield it without proper experience and care. But in the hands of a writer who knows exactly what it’s capable of and how to wield it to advantage, backstory can take even ordinary stories to extraordinary places.

Arguably, the most important function of backstory is its ability to hook readers’ curiosity. Forget explaining the protagonist’s past and what motivates him. Try notexplaining it. When we let readers know there’s something delicious and dark in a character’s past, without telling them what that something is, we’ll hook their curiosity so deeply they’ll keep reading just to solve the mystery.

Charlotte Brontë understood how to wield the weapon of backstory as well any author. In her beloved Gothic romance Jane Eyre (which I analyze in-depth in my book Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic), she creates almost her entire plot out of the tantalizing hunt for the backstory. What can you learn from her and how can you apply it to your own novel? Start by answering the following questions.

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How to Use Backstory to Keep Readers Reading

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I love Rowling’s use of backstory in EVERY Harry Potter novel. It’s like reading a modern version of Dickens where you think you had things figured out, only to realize you were being misdirected and so you jumped to a non-obvious conclusion, only to find out that you were WRONG the WHOLE time.

    The backstory is what makes Great Expectations so enduring in my mind.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Dickens was da bomb with that. You’re exactly right: it’s like he kept creating it out of nothing–and making it all work together.

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