Wednesday, January 10, 2018

BackStory is for You—the Author—to Know. Don’t be an intruder! by Caryl McAdoo

To develop a character, even on page one, the writer needs to know where the heroine’s been and what in her life has brought her to that day, but a reader does not. Don’t start your novel with backstory. It is unnecessary to bring the reader ‘up to speed.’ Actually, it’s a big, boring mistake.

In real life, when meeting a new person, you don’t know her back-story—getting to know the new friend is a part of the fun, right? Let readers meet your characters the same way—a little at a time. Who cares if her brother’s a Kentucky horse breeder or who her best friend is? No one. Not yet. Think about it.

Would you hold still to listen to a life history as soon as you sat down? No, it’s only after you get to know the person and find her interesting that you’re willing to go on a journey down memory lane. You’re interested in the here and now. The why or how you came to be there with her then what happens next.

The rest will be known in small increments, finding out more about her each time you visit. No one opening your book and meeting your character for the first time cares about her past either. They want to know what’s happening right then and what’s about to take place. If it’s interesting.

The backstory is great for the author to know, even vital. So yes, imagine the backstory that’s made the heroine into a strong woman. Work it all out, know it, then sprinkle it into your story as it progresses. Think of it as salt. Too much in one place will spoil your food, just as too much backstory—often referred to as an information dump—will spoil your novel.

Dole out backstory to readers on a need-to-know basis, as the information becomes relevant. Ana avoid author intrusion—writing information the POVC (point of view character) would not be thinking at that time because of what’s going on.


The private eye straightened behind the wheel at the ready. The object of her stakeout just emerged. He almost bounced down the brownstone’s stairs. What was he so chipper about that early in the morning?

Wiping blur from her eyes, she shook her head. Though he’d kept her up all night, she never regretted becoming a PI.

Her father had objected and her mother practically fainted the day she announced her decision, but she liked her work. Even if that first cheating husband almost shot her, the job hadn’t been that dangerous.

Risk, she loved it! Ever since the time her grandfather talked her into swinging on that grapevine.

Can you see? Even though that may be semi-interesting backstory, there’s no way the lady would be engaging in that introspection at that time. It’s old news for her. She knows it. All her focus, her internal dialogues, are going to be on that man leaving the strange address. She’ll be running scenarios as to the whys, trying to figure out her case.

Let your characters’ histories come out in dialogue or introspection, but in a natural manner. Backstory, no matter how beautifully written with amazing descriptions, is not from your character’s point of view (POV). Our PI in that example lived it. So why would she be rehashing what her parents thought about her career choice right then when the crisis is happening?

She simply would not.

So whose head is it in? Yours! The author! And you’re intruding on your character’s story.

Don’t do it.

Have you found it difficult to keep from spilling your character's history at inappropriate times?


Caryl McAdoo prays her story brings God glory, and a quick scroll through her novels’ rankings by Christian readers attests to the Father’s faithfulness. She loves writing almost as much as singing the new songs He gives her—look her up on YouTube to hear a few. Her high school sweetheart husband won her heart fifty-one years ago, and now they share four children and seventeen grandsugars. Ron and Caryl live in the woods south of Clarksville, seat of Red River County in far Northeast Texas, waiting expectantly for God to open the next door. 

Author Pages:
     Simon & Schuster -
     Sweet Americana Sweethearts - 

                         (All First Chapters offered here)

                       (Hear Caryl sing her New Songs!)

    The Word & the Music
    HeartWings (Devotional) -
    Stitches Thru Time (Misc.) -
    Sweet Americana Sweethearts (Historical) -