Backstory in chapter one..

by Alex

Question: I'm writing a story in which the backstory, which is kind of like a flashback is important. I began the first chapter with the main character telling a story of the past (for nearly half a page) and the cutting back to the current time. It feels wrong, and I know that having backstory in the first chapter isn't encouraged. But I don't know how to add all that information in a way that's subtle.


To maybe make this easier, I'll further explain. The backstory is a scene of a family fight where one character abandons the family over the fight, and parents split apart. This has a major effect in the main character's life and story later on. How do I include all the things I want in a way that makes readers understand why she's acting the way she is, and still not throwing too much information all at once?

Answer: You want to involve the reader in your character's present situation as quickly as possible, which is why opening with backstory is generally frowned upon.

However, if the present situation involves your character behaving in a certain way because of events in the past, then you can drop in little bits of information to explain what's going on. You might even be able to include an entire paragraph, if it's not too long.

This may be a little easier if you were writing in first person, because that narrative mode presumes the main character is telling her story to the reader in a conversational style. In conversation, we can tell a friend about something that happened to us and also fill them in on enough of the backstory for them to understand why we did what we did.

What matters is that you not get bogged down in backstory to the point that the reader loses track of the story you are telling. Tell just enough so the reader can understand what is going on in the "present" story.

You can do something similar in 3rd person, in which case the narrator (who is telling the story) feeds the readers just enough background information for them to understand the present action.

If you want an example from a popular book, you might take a look at the first chapter of The Hunger Games. Collins manages to tell the reader much of Katniss's backstory while keeping the focus her activities on the day of the impending Reaping.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.


 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook


NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles


"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards



"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero