Does Your World's Backstory Make Sense?

At the weekend I had to edit a massive infodump of backstory in Space!Story.  The information needs to be in there as it sets up some pretty important off-screen (off-page?/happens-before-the-book?) history, but I tried to keep it as concise as possible.  However, as I cut words, I realised I needed to be wary of opening plotholes.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you're creating backstory:

Does It Make Sense?

Does what happened follow a proper chain of events that lead up to the time-frame your novel is set in? Is it easy to follow? Is it too simplistic? Is it compelling? Does it offer a view into the world of the story without drowning the reader in unnecessary detail? If there is a lot of detail, is it written in an engaging manner?

What Questions Does It Raise?

Does your backstory ask questions your main plot will answer or does it raise questions that may cause a reader to disengage? When I read, I want to ask "how will this affect the characters?" I don't want to think Hang on, if they knew the bad guy would be in the building, why didn't they take him out instead of letting him go? Like that joke if everyone listened to Jack Bauer in 24 the show would be called 12. Basically, keep the reader engaged. Try not to give them a gap they can pick apart like why the hell anything functioned after an EMP PACIFIC RIM GAAAAAAAAH!!!! You don't necessarily have to fill every plothole, but I feel it's important for your backstory to feel solid so the reader can trust where the main action is going.

How Does Your Backstory Impact Your Character?

This totally depends on the type of backstory it is.  For example, if you've got a character living in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, the backstory of their world is likely to have a huuuuge impact on their life.  If said apocalypse happened generations ago, the impact may be somewhat diluted by time and distance from the event itself.

When creating my fictional world's backstory, I try to remember one golden rule: everything in the book has to have an effect on the characters. If it doesn't, why bother having it there?

So, how do you go about writing a world's backstory without getting too bogged down in details or, if you love all that historical detail, how to you keep track and relevant?

Comments

  1. I struggle a lot with trying to work backstory into the narrative without infodumping! I have the entire backstory mapped out before I start, but once I'm mid-draft, it becomes harder to see when is the right time to reveal information in a way that makes sense and doesn't either drag the narrative down or pull the reader out of the story. It's a tricky balance to maintain!

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    1. It is so tricky! So much needs to go in, but how much is too much? We'll just have to do our best :)

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