TO backstory or not to backstory, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to assume the reader
will figure the character out through bits and pieces
Or to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous critique asking
“Why, why did you bore me so?”
To rush to fix a sea of troubles with a “kill your darlings” red pencil
Or perhaps a section break.
(Sorry, Bill. Frustrated with a rewrite that cut too much.)
A question I hear often in critique groups is, “Is this moving the story forward?” An ancillary question is where to insert backstory … the events before the time of the story that contributed to its direction or, more often, a character’s development.
And we writers are told by a thousand how-to books that we need to grab the reader in the first line. Get things moving. Bottom of first page is too late.
I have been reading two stories in my critique group from gifted writers who work humor into every line. I keep feeling pressured by conventional wisdom to suggest moving the story forward.
Then I began reading Deacon King Kong, by James McBride. Literary fiction, to be sure, so anything goes by way of structure, but the book starts with the obligatory precipitating event—but then gives the reader twenty pages of double-over-laughing backstory. Which brings up the question: Why do we read, anyway? For pleasure, right?
I guess I’ll cut back on the cookie-cutter critique and just enjoy my friends’ prose.