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.

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