Do As They Say

I can’t take it.  I just cannot take it!

Why does every critically acclaimed book that I read start with backstory?  Pages and pages of backstory!

I’m finally reading Gone Girl and the first four pages have been spent reminiscing and setting up the characters.  I recently read The Tiger’s Wife, and the beginning (like most of the book) focused on the past.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I loved The Tiger’s Wife.  I’m enjoying Gone Girl.  I have no problem with well-done backstory.  I’d be glad to follow suit and include some in my opening scenes, except that writers are told to avoid doing so at all costs.

So why do Gillian Flynn and Tea Obreht get to?

I’m sure there are several answers.  First, there is a fine line between well-done and over-done backstory, and I bet that most authors have no idea where that line is.  Second is that phenomenon where well-published authors can do whatever the heck they want while the rest of us have to play by the rules.

But for the love of God, help us out, Gillian Flynn!  Lend a hand, Tea Obreht – and all of you other rule-breaking golden children.  Will someone high up please stop it with the backstory and give us newbies examples that we’re actually allowed to follow?

8 thoughts on “Do As They Say

  1. I hear you on this one. We read about all these things we’re not supposed to do in our writing, and then we pick up the latest bestseller and see them all done many times over. Frustrating or inspiring, I’m not sure. Maybe a bit of both!

  2. The advice I get from seasoned authors is to limit flashbacks to one or two sentences sprinkled throughout the story, and only stick to what is necessary to move the story forward. Newbies should heed this advice. I agree, there are those authors who break the rules, but they’ve already proven their success and have established a following of readers. I recently read a book by a well-known author and was stunned by the “head hopping”. The rule of creating a new scene when switching to a different POV character was thrown out the window, but her hundreds of fans didn’t care. Until I can quit my day job, I’m sticking to the rules.

  3. Good morning Lauren,

    Thank you for looking in.

    Re: backstory.Until now I’ve only written flash and short fiction, so I don’t suffer with this ‘problem’. I do however have three ‘started’ novels hidden in the depths of my hard-drive, and this article gave me food for thought. None of them start with back-story, but they’re going to have to contain some somewhere. I’ve never given this any thought till now…time to panic?

    • Not time to panic, I’m sure, but I’m glad that my article was useful to you. Backstory certainly has its place in most fiction – just know that agents and editors will flag your work as problematic if they see big chunks of it in the beginning! Thanks for following!

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