Learning from My (Writing) Mistakes: Back Story Dumping

You might expect some metaphorical literary genius here, but I won’t bore you with that. I offer only my writing errors and how I am attempting to overcome them.

After I submitted copies of my latest manuscript to a couple of potential agents, I continued with reading Jeff Gerke’s book, “The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction.” Too late, I discovered his chapter on the sin of back story dumping.

Oh, brother! Haven’t I learned this already? Gerke’s advice is not new. I know not to bore my readers with a narrative gush of information about my heroine. I know not to slap a chunk of my character’s history later in the book. I know to “sprinkle” bits of back story, weaving it into dialogue or physical descriptions of time, place or person. And I know I’m supposed to leave out the information altogether if it’s not positively essential to the plot.

I first learned this in one of author Deborah Raney’s seminars at a Mt. Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. She said to begin with action. Let the reader meet your character where he is right now; not with where he came from and where he was born. In fact, avoid all back story information for the first 30-50 pages, or leave it out entirely.

In other words, just give hints about your character. Don’t tell the reader everything. Trust the intelligence of your audience. They can figure it out.

Here’s one of Deborah Raney’s examples–a quote from Robert Elmer’s book, “Like Always”: “She found her driver’s license. Thank the Lord it wouldn’t expire until her 45th birthday next year. By the time she found it she had built a small pile of lipstick tubes and expired grocery coupons.”

You don’t need back story with lines like these. The description itself reveals that the story is about a woman who wears makeup, might be frugal, is forty-four years-old, is Californian, and is likely disorganized. Brilliant, right?

Do you have a back story paragraph full of information you feel you positively must share with your reader? Copy and paste it into a comment and let me (and other readers here) offer suggestions of how to perhaps weave it into your manuscript in a more creative manner. It could be fun…!

Author Deborah Raney

Jeff Gerke’s, “The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction”