slowing the book down

Watch That Back Story…(This Is a Trick Post)


The photo above is one of my back gardens. I live on Two acres in New Hope, Bucks County, PA, and one of my ways to unwind is to spend the entire weekend working outside. I’ve planted almost an acre of pachysandra in the nine years I’ve lived here (not all in one place), mixed with Boston Ivy, and other green perennials. I keep the palate simple, monochromatic, and provide texture with garden statues and urns filled with annuals or deer friendly shrubs.

I planted the flowers in the photo above about four years ago, and since then they’ve taken off very well. They front a long row of bamboo, which provides a nice border. I can’t see any of my neighbors because everyone around me has two or more acres, but I like privacy.

But the interesting thing about the flowers above is that I don’t know what the hell they are. And I don’t care. Which is why I’m including them in a post about back story in fiction. In other words, these flowers don’t even need a name. The main function is for them to add a little color, fill in a blank space, and keep things interesting.

And that’s how I look at back story. Too much back story in any book or short story can kill the pace…not to mention the entire reading experience. If it’s overdone, back story can slow down the real story and make the reader want to stop reading altogether. It might be important to add a few things about the main character’s best friend in high school, but if it’s a throw away character we don’t need to know this character’s life story. There is such a thing as too much information and too much detail. Think about that friend you have who takes a half hour to tell a three minute joke. Not fun.

There are ways to add back story into books that don’t require long, detailed descriptions. All authors have different ways to do this. It’s not easy and you have to be clever about it. It’s like weaving into the plot. But it can be done, especially with dialogue. And I think one secret is keeping it short and the to point.

Why is this a trick post? Because I wrote far too much about the flowers and my gardening habits in the first two paragraphs. I did it on purpose, to show how too much back story…or too much explanation…can ruin something and sway someone’s attention. I should have just mentioned the flowers and plunged right into a post about back story. I could have done it in a sentence or two and this post would have been much shorter and to the point. Actually, I could cut the entire first two paragraphs and this post would read much better.