In mystery novels, backstory is essential to the story plot. The life experiences of characters are what formed their values, attitudes and beliefs which in turn explain the origins of the motives and behaviors when faced with the conflict inherent in a mystery novel. Here are ten things every mystery writer should know about backstory.
1. It’s essential to determine how much backstory is necessary for the story. Do not over explain past events. Choose only those events needed to explain a character’s emotions and actions.
2. It’s absolutely critical to decide where and how to insert background information into a fast-moving mystery novel without stalling the story.
3. Remember, the reader doesn’t need to know as much backstory as the writer does so keep backstory to a minimum.
4. You must make the past (backstory) important to the reader by making it the vehicle that ties together the mysterious threads of the current action.
5. Weave the backstory into the plot in small dribbles revealing more bits of information as the story progresses. This keeps the reader wanting more.
6. Deliver backstory in a scene where it fits naturally into the story. Tie the information to some type of action that’s happening.
7. Try not to present backstory in the first chapter. You need to open your novel with action that propels the story forward. By its very nature, backstory is not action and it does not move the story forward.
8. Backstory should provide information that engages your readers’ imagination and forces h/er to ask more questions.
9. Flashback is a useful vehicle for presenting backstory but something in the scene must trigger it.
10. Keep backstory short and to the point. Never wax poetically in the past while the story halts and the reader dozes off.
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