Backstory: Lessons from my July Reading

Lot’s of time spent driving my son and his friends too and from the pool so not as much reading done as I would like.  But I did learn a thing or two about backstory, especially as it applies to a series.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, backstory is anything that happens before page 1 of your book.

One of the tricky bits about writing a series is having to work in the backstory.  Because it is a series, you can’t count on the reader starting with book #1.  This means that the backstory that you told in book #1 may need to be repeated in book # 2, and book #8 and so on.  Add to this the fact that things that happen in books #1 and #2 actually form some of the backstory in book #8 and you begin to see the problem.

One of the books on my list this month started with a truck load of backstory.  I listened to it as an audiobook on CD and actually double checked to make sure that this was disc #1.  When I realized that it was in fact disc #1, I then decided that this must be some kind of series summary.  Nope, it was actually the first page or two of the first chapter.  Backstory and no present story.  If I’d been reading it, I would have either put the book down or flipped forward several pages.  I was washing dishes so I was something of a hostage.

Your readers may need to know what happened before your story, but don’t give it to them on page one and give it to them a tiny bit at a time.  Otherwise, they’ll be looking for a handy escape route!

See my actual reading list for the month of July below my signature.


July Reading:

  1. A Rock is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long (Chronicle Books)
  2. Love, Lies, and LIquor by M. C. Beaton
  3. Crazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac (Lee and Low)
  4. Fat Angie by E. E. Charlton-Trujillo (Candlewick Press)
  5. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
  6. File M for Murder by Miranda James (Berkley Prime Crime)
  7. Librarian on the Roof by M.G. King (Albert A. Whitman)
  8. Every You, Every Me by David Levithan (Alfred A. Knopf)
  9. The Witch of Little Italy by Suzanne Palmieri (St. Martin’s)
  10. I Can Hear the Sun: A Modern Myth by Patricia Polacco (Puffin Books)
  11. Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco (Philomel)
  12. One City, Two Brothers by Chris Smith, illustrated by Aurelia Fronty (Barefoot Books)
  13. Vicious, True Stories by Teens about Bullying edited by Hope Vanderberg (Free Spirit Publishing)
  14. Sister Bear, A Norse Tale by Jane Yolen (Marshall Cavendish Children’s)