It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
For the first time in over six months, I want to write. I hope my writing block is finally over. But I still haven’t started yet. I have a story, almost complete in my head – the plot, the characters, and the milieu – but one question bugs me: backstory.
One of my favorite writers, Jennifer Crusie, is loudly opposed to any backstory in her books. She thinks it is not relevant to the story you’re telling here and now. According to Crusie, any backstory you include in your narrative – a long flashback, a prologue, a memory dream, or small chunks of explanations sprinkled through the texts – always slows down the pace and takes away from the immediacy of what is happening to the protagonist at the moment. The past is already done and gone and can’t be changed.
I happen to agree with her… almost. In rare cases though, I think backstory is necessary. Sometimes, backstory becomes almost a character in itself. Without it, the choices the protagonist makes are incomprehensible to the reader. The protagonist’s decisions might seem cruel or idiotic, unless the reader knows what events in the past prompted them in the present. To make my character sympathetic, I must explain why she acts the way she does.
Or do I?
Some past, if it was traumatic enough, never leaves you. It poisons every thought, affects every action and every relationship. All the revenge stories are like that. To let the pain go, to forget and forgive, might be much more restful. It would also make you a better person, erase the bitterness and the fears that gnaw at your soul, but it is so infernally hard. What if you can’t forgive? In the case of my story, I’m talking about this kind of backstory, although my story isn’t about revenge.
I’m still debating with myself what I should do. Should I include the backstory in one flashback? Should it be a prologue or come out at the appropriate time in the middle of the story? Should I pepper the text with small nuggets of information about the past? Should I leave it out completely and let the reader guess?
What do you think? Do you consider backstory necessary? If yes, how do you deal with it in your fiction? Are there certain types of storytelling or genres that lend themselves to backstory more than others? Tell me in the comments.