How to Weave Backstory Into Your Novel

by Monica M. Clark | 32 comments

It’s a satisfying experience to reach the point where you really know a character—when she becomes real. You’ve spent weeks figuring out the events in her life that made her who she is, interviewing her, and developing her history. Naturally, the first thing you want to do when you sit down to write is tell the reader all about it.

But you can’t.

knitting

Photo by elitatt (creative commons)

You can't just tell the reader in the first chapter about a traumatizing experience that made your protagonist reluctant to fall in love. But when do you tell him? And how do you weave the back story into your novel? Here are some ideas.

First Action, Then Back Story

First, show the break up. Then explain the events leading up to it.

First, show one brother punch the other. Then write the flashback scene that reveals why they hate each other.

First, show the man pathetically waiting for his ex-wife to come back to him. Then show us the history between them that reveals that decision isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

In other words, first, hook the reader with action, then satisfy his thirst for more information with back story. Do it the other way around, and you risk losing your reader’s interest.

Use Back Story to Slow Down Your Novel

One of the main reasons it’s generally not recommended that you provide a character’s back story too early is that it slows the novel. That said, there will be points in your writing when you’ll want to slow down the pace. After a particularly dramatic or an intense scene, for example. Or if you need to switch it up after a few pages of dialogue.

These moments are the perfect time to include that scene you’ve been wanting to share but didn’t know where to place.

If a character just concluded an argument with her boyfriend, that might be the time to tell the story of how they first met—or when she first started to suspect something was wrong. Or if the protagonist learns his father is sick, that would be an appropriate moment for her to reflect with a memory from her childhood.

The Reader Doesn’t Need to Know Everything You Do

Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer wisely advises that you “quit thinking your reader needs to know as much background to read your story as you need to know to write it.”

It’s important that you know as much about your characters as possible so that they become real to you; however, that doesn’t mean you need to include every piece of their history into your novel.

The back story that you do include should serve a purpose. What it reveals about the character should be relevant to the story or somehow move the plot forward (for example, if it’s revealed via dialogue to another character). It’s not worth it to stress yourself out worrying about how to include information that doesn’t need to be in there anyway.

When do you think is good time to provide back story?

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to write a scene revealing your character’s back story. Share with us below in the comments section!

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Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

32 Comments

  1. Alicia Rades

    I like this topic because I feel so many writers think they need to jump into the backstory right away to have the story make any sense (myself included). It’s a LOT more interesting when you can weave it in.

    Reply
    • Heather Marsten

      Good point. One thing I’m learning is that the reader needs a lot less backstory than I feel he/she needs. Weaving it in makes it more interesting, keeps the reader guessing.

    • Winnie

      I agree. Just a few well-chosen details in the right place speaks volumes of backstory.

    • Monica

      It’s definitely more interesting. I think this is an area where simply reading books of authors you admire can be helpful. In addition to Techniques of a Selling Writer, I read JK Rowling’s “Cuckoo’s Calling” to help me figure out how to weave in the backstory.

  2. Heather Marsten

    Good topic. In first person memoir, backstory is important for it can tell you things the Main Character doesn’t know from first-hand experience. Here is a scene where my father (who had sexually abused me for many years now) had a heart attack, returns to his childhood church of Christian Science and brought his anger and rage there.

    ***

    Instead of solving my math problem, I doodle on a piece of scrap paper. It’s hard to concentrate when Daddy screams at Mommy for coughing during the news. He’s meaner now than when he drank. Wish he never had that heart attack, palpi… palpo … whatever they call them. Wish he’d go back to Hal’s Bar.

    Daddy clears his throat by my bedroom door.

    I scribble a few numbers, and look at him.

    “Hurry up. Finish your homework. Testimonial meeting tonight.”

    “Okay.” I solve my last problem and change out of play clothes. I hate these stupid meetings. Ever since his heart stuff we have to go to the Christian Science Church and miss all the good TV shows. Why’d I ever want to go to church? Sunday School’s okay, it’s the other stuff.

    The ride to church is peaceful – no yelling. Wonder who lives in the houses alongside
    the highway. I catch a glimpse of the drive-in movie screen. It’s the closest I come to seeing a movie that’s not on TV. Mommy and Daddy’s cigarette smoke’s so thick, I crank my window a tiny bit for a breath of fresh air.

    Since Christian Scientists aren’t supposed to smoke, right before we get to church, they tamp out their cigarettes and put a drop of Binaca on their tongues. Who are they kidding? Binaca doesn’t hide the smell of smoke on their clothes.

    From our pew near the middle of the church, I glance around. Mostly grownups, but it
    doesn’t matter. Even if someone from Sunday school were here, I’d still have to sit between Mommy and Daddy.

    We sing as the organist plays Onward Christian Soldiers – hymns are the best part of the meeting. After the song, someone reads passages from the Bible and Science and Health, then the boring part – sitting quietly and waiting for someone to stand and give their testimony. What if no one stands? Nah, that’d never happen.

    My throat tickles. I can’t stop coughing.

    Daddy glares.

    Swallowing doesn’t help. The more I try not to, the more I cough. If I don’t get this under control, he’ll hit me for sure when we get to the car. Mommy passes me a mint and that helps a little.

    Two pews in front of us, a short, dumpy man in a blue suit stands. “Sprained my ankle two weeks ago. Rested it and read the Bible and Science and Health. Took two weeks of claiming the truth, but my ankle’s better. Now I walk without a limp.” He sits down.

    We’re not supposed to applaud, just sit quietly and wait for the next person to stand. If I were God, I’d want a little applause, though that wasn’t much of a miracle. When Sally sprained her ankle in gym, it only took two weeks to heal.

    I hear a stirring sound and look over my shoulder. A woman with grey hair stands. She
    wipes her hands on her skirt and clears her throat.

    “Stop looking around,” Daddy pokes my leg with a knuckle and whispers through tight
    lips. “Sit still.”

    The woman says, “I lost a button from my coat, prayed, and retraced my steps. It took some time, but God helped me find it.”

    That’s just common sense. I stifle a yawn and shift around. The hard wooden pew cuts
    into my backside. Wish there were cushions.

    Daddy stands. His hands grip the back of the pew in front of us. “When I was a little boy, I used to play in an abandoned mine shaft down the street from my house in Minnesota.”

    People turn to look at Daddy.

    I sit up straighter. Daddy’s never talked about when he was little. I can’t even imagine
    him as a little boy.

    “I jumped down the shaft and drove a huge spike through my foot.”

    Ouch. I wince just imagining that.

    “Aunt Marion, my stepmother, pulled out the spike and bandaged my foot. The wound
    festered and turned green. Doctor said he’d have to amputate. Aunt Marion soaked it in hot salt water. We prayed and read the Bible and Science and Health. When she took my foot out of the water and placed it on her lap, the pus drained. Within a few days my foot was healed.” Daddy sits.

    Another person stands up, but I don’t hear him. I think about what Daddy said. Did he
    get into a lot of trouble as a boy? What happened to his real mother? Playing in a mineshaft?

    After the meeting, people come up to Daddy and congratulate him on his testimony. He
    smiles. Maybe he’ll forget about my coughing.

    On the way home, Daddy puts a nitroglycerine pill under his tongue. They both
    light up cigarettes – so much for the no smoking and medicine rules.

    Reply
    • Monica

      Wow, thanks for sharing. It’s always fascinating to me to hear about the background of an abuser. I think this is definitely a situation where you’d want to show the abuse first, and then share the backstory, shedding some light (if you can) on why he’s that way or showing a period when he wasn’t a monster. Good luck with your memoir!

    • Winnie

      What I find interesting is the attitude of children towards their abusers. They’re so interested in the finer details about that person eg. putting Binaca on their tongues to hide the cigarette smell, that they don’t have time to get upset..
      I also found the mention of ‘Hal’s Bar’ interesting.

    • JamesterLee

      I really like the voice of your character. Although gender and age aren’t explicit there is a definite personality that makes the narrator interesting, not just as the story teller but as a person. It’s sad to think of a young child with a cynical undertone to their voice. I’m curious to know what kind of backstory would develop about your mom as well.

    • Winnie

      xx

  3. W. Bailey

    I had been wondering about how to get a character’s history in front of the reader, now I know. Now I need to try to do it. The following is for a WIP. Stephen has found himself in a place so foreign to him that he feels isolated. He has just ended a conversation with another tavern drinker who has decided to go home to his wife for a “cuddle”
    *****************************.

    Stephen watched the barmaid swish
    around the tables, bending low to wipe water rings from in front of
    two fellows, while at the same time exposing a great deal of cleavage
    and breast. He felt a heat begin to spread from his lower stomach
    upward and downward. If he watched much longer and let his mind be
    taken over by his imagination, he would have difficulty walking out
    of the tavern. He forced his mind to consider unpleasant memories,
    and any lascivious thoughts he might have entertained were gone.

    He never had a problem conjuring
    unpleasant memories. He had a trunk-full thanks to his dead wife
    Lydia. It wasn’t her death that was unpleasant, it was her life and
    the hell she put him through for almost seven years.

    They had married in their Senior year
    of college. He thought it was a love that would only grow stronger;
    he came to understand she thought the marriage was a ticket to
    freedom from her mother and to a carefree life as a stay-at-home
    wife. Lydia’s mother was a bitter woman who had no use for men since
    her husband had walked out on she and Lydia twenty years ago when
    Lydia was five. Every day and night since then her mother had
    preached distrust and disgust of men. Lydia had simultaneously
    learned to hate men and to seek a man out to take her away from the
    penny-pinching and vitriol of her mother.

    Enter the sucker: me. Lydia played me
    like an experienced fly fisherman played the big rainbow trout. I was
    never invited to her home and I never asked why. Meeting parents made
    me uneasy and tongue tied. Lydia also never allowed any sexual
    playful beyond a squeeze of her breast through her clothing. I was
    encouraged to believe that she was shy and unschooled about sex. I
    looked forward to our wedding night, but I was sorely disappointed
    when she asked that we turn out the lights before we got in bed. I
    expected I would have to go slow and gentle with her, however she
    proceeded to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of sexual arousal and
    positions. I was overjoyed and puzzled.

    The barmaid leaned down to my level as
    I sat at the table. She gave me a close-up view of her charms and
    asked if I wanted another pint or “anything else”. I hesitated
    and then said I would settle for a pint and nothing more. I had to
    return to my store of unpleasant memories.

    I was afraid to ask Lydia where she
    had learned so much. I was afraid of the answer. Shortly thereafter
    she began to perform her wifely duties in a listless and bored
    manner. When I asked about her being a little more enthusiastic, she
    would scream, “Sex, that is all you care about! It is just like
    momma said. All you want is to use me and then forget me. I won’t be
    treated that way, Stephen. If I have to, I will find respect
    somewhere else. Maybe I will be satisfied for once.”

    She began having to work late or go
    out with the girls from the office. I had no idea what to do. She
    would come in after midnight, drunk and taunting me with her
    undressing. I lost it when she disrobed and wasn’t wearing any
    panties. She pulled them from her purse and waved them at me.

    Reply
    • Monica

      Thanks for sharing this backstory! Another thing that I think helps is dropping hints to the backstory before you tell it. For example, through the character’s actions, reactions, clothes, living situation, etc. Then when the reader finally finds out the history (which hopefully will be both surprising and inevitable) it’s a satisfying experience.

  4. themagicviolinist

    This is a section from my WIP. In this passage, the MC, Raven, tells a supporting character, a little girl named Blue, how they were found in the wilderness as babies.

    Blue giggled and ran behind a tree.
    “I can still see you!” I called out to her. “Come back here. It’s time for dinner!”
    “Not hungry,” Blue sang. She jumped up, grabbed hold of a branch, and started to climb up.
    “Get back down here!” I laughed and ran after her. Swinging my legs up, I climbed and caught up with her.
    Blue smothered her laughter in her tiny hands. Her icy-blue eyes–for which she was named–sparkled in the remaining sunlight.
    “Toby says if you don’t come down soon, he’ll pull you down,” I said, very seriously. “But to tell you the truth, I don’t think he can climb this high. In fact, I didn’t know you could climb this high.”
    “I learned it from you,” Blue said. She grinned at me, showing all of her pearly white teeth. “I watched you last time. It’s not that hard.”
    “It really isn’t.” I stroked the branch I was sitting on, enjoying the rough bark and the pieces of tree that came away in my hand. “And the trees are so friendly. They never complain if you want to sit in them.”
    Blue giggled again.
    “You know what,” I said. “I’m not that hungry either. Why don’t we just hang out in here for a little while?”
    Blue bobbed her head up and down. “Yes, yes, please!”
    Somebody stomped over, grumbling under his breath. I glanced down and saw Toby staring up at us maybe ten feet below.
    “Are you two chipmunks gonna come down here and eat some grub?” Toby asked, raising one eyebrow at us.
    Blue shook her head. I said, “We prefer the term birds.”
    “Just ’cause your name is Raven doesn’t mean you are a raven,” Toby said. I grinned and he walked off.
    “Why is your name Raven?” Blue asked me. “Is that the name your Momma gave you or did Mara give you that name, too?”
    I shook my head. “Toby gave me my name. I was found as a baby and I had this thick mop of jet-black hair on my head. It was soft as bird feathers and the exact same color as it is now.”
    I pulled some of my hair away. Blue reached out her tiny hand and felt it, too.
    “It’s still soft!” she said, smiling at me.
    I grinned, too. “Yeah, it is. I’m not sure how, seeing as I get sticks and dirt and all kinds of crazy stuff stuck in it. Anyway, Mara found you as a baby, too, except that you didn’t have much hair at all. You were almost completely bald, except for a thin layer of golden hair, the same hair you have now.”
    Blue put a hand to her scalp and felt her hair. She frowned.
    “Mine’s not soft,” she said, sounding disappointed.
    “Yeah.” I tousled her hair playfully. “But your hair’s the color of sunshine.”
    Blue smiled. “Tell me more!”
    I put a finger to my chin, thinking hard. “Let me see . . . yes. When Mara found you, you were lying in a basket underneath a blanket and a pile of bread. We couldn’t find your mom or your dad anywhere, but Mara thinks that maybe your parents were trying to escape to keep you safe. When you woke up, you had these great, big, blue eyes. Mara said they looked like a blue sky. Toby said they looked like the ocean. I’ve never seen the ocean, but they look pretty Blue to me.”
    Blue ducked her head, her ears turning pink. She let her waist-length hair fall partly in front of her face. “I wish I could see them. My eyes, I mean. I tried looking at my reflection in the water, but it kept moving. I couldn’t tell what color they were.”
    I kissed her nose like I did every night before she fell asleep. “Someday. Someday we’ll find a home, a real one with a roof and doors and everything. And that house will have a room just for you with a real bed and windows. In that room, the walls will be completely made of mirrors so everywhere you look you can see yourself and your hair and your eyes.”
    “Will you live in that house?” Blue widened her eyes and clutched my hand as if she were worried I’d say no.
    “Of course.” I smiled at her and squeezed her hand. “We all will.”
    Blue looked down at her wrist and twisted a piece of string around her hand. Mara had died it red with berry juice and given it to Blue. “Tell me about when Toby found you.”
    I let out a long, low breath, the kind where you puffed out your cheeks and blew hard. “Let’s see . . . Well, Toby says that he found me underneath a bush. I was crying, that’s how they knew I was there in the first place. I was wrapped in this thin blanket. It was blue.”
    Blue scrunched up her nose when she grinned. I tweaked it playfully. “My mother–well, they suspect it was my mother since she had the same color hair as me–was lying next to me, but she was dead. They think an Officer killed her.”
    Blue rubbed her eyes and sniffed hard, like she was trying not to cry. “I’m sorry.”
    I shook my head. “It’s okay. I don’t even remember her. Or my father. I was just a baby, after all. Okay, what’s next? Yes. Toby named me for my hair and the Flock has practically raised me since then. Toby’s taught me everything he knows about living in the wild and Mara’s taught me how to read and write. She even taught me a little math.”
    “Like me!” Blue grinned and bounced up and down in her branch. The tree shook a little, and I jerked forwards, reaching out for Blue before she fell. But Blue was fine. She steadied herself and held on tight to the tree trunk. “I can do subtraction now!”
    “Yes you can. And soon you’ll be in a real school with a real teacher. And she’ll teach you all about multiplication, division, and geometry.”
    “I can’t wait for things to get better.” Blue sighed and leaned against the tree trunk. She looked past me at the sunset. I followed her gaze and focused on the brilliant reds, oranges, purples, and pinks in the sky. “They will get better, won’t they, Raven? Raven?”
    I looked over at her, at her hopeful face, her wide eyes, and perfect . . . everything.
    “Yes,” I said. “Things will get better.”

    Reply
    • Monica

      Thanks for sharing! And I’m glad you recognize that sharing backstory via dialogue still counts as backstory! At first I tried to sneak some background in way too early using this technique, but finally I admitted to myself that it was slowing things down.

    • themagicviolinist

      Glad you liked it! 🙂 I try really hard to balance the dialogue and description in my books, especially with something like backstory.

    • Elise Martel

      This is very well written. You maintained the childlike innocence and emotion of Blue throughout and made it very powerful.

    • themagicviolinist

      Thank you! 🙂

  5. JamesterLee

    Molly rushed to the front door, waiting just long enough for her sister, Hannah, to follow her into foyer. A dramatic exit was pointless without an audience. Hannah’s soft footsteps stopped at the archway behind Molly. Molly spun abruptly to face her sister, eyes red and swollen from crying. Her throat was tight from trying to quell the emotion that now showed in wet splotches on her face.

    “You always do this!” Molly struggled to shout the words at her sister. More tears escaped with her words. “It doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s mine you just have to take it! I won’t forgive you for this. Not ever!” Hannah’s face was passive, the epitome of composure.

    “I guess I’ll just have to get used to being an only child then,” Hannah said coolly. Molly inhaled sharply, recovering from what felt like an actual strike to her gut. She opened her mouth to respond. Instead, for the first time ever, she closed her mouth and walked away, closing the door softly behind her.

    It had always been like that. Their father used to joke how instead of getting one daughter with a normal disposition, he was given two daughters at opposite ends of the spectrum to balance each other out. Molly, who perpetually ran hot, had a flare for the dramatic. As the younger sister she was the center of attention. She had a love for theatre and art, and was a very easy person to read. Hannah, on the other hand, was as easy to read as Japanese calligraphy written on a microorganism without a microscope. Every action was calculated and deliberate. It did not leave her void of feelings, however. Instead, Molly suspected just the opposite. She suspected Hannah’s emotions ran so deep that they overwhelmed her into a state of quiet indifference. When they were children, Hannah always found a way to manipulate Molly or their parents into trading the better Christmas presents. One year, at Molly’s birthday party, Hannah managed to irk Molly to the point of a tantrum so monumental their parents called the party off and sent Molly’s friends home. A month later, those friends were invited to Hannah’s party as a sort of consolation. Hannah always had the bigger party after that. But this time was different. It wasn’t about what Hannah had taken. It was who.

    Reply
    • Eliese

      The words you use to describe your characters and scene are so specific and beautiful. I also liked how we didn’t know what she took until the end. It finished things but also made me want to know more.

    • JamesterLee

      Thank You 🙂

    • Monica

      Very natural transition into back story. I love learning about both sisters by comparing them to each other. It’s a great way to get in a lot of information. Thanks for sharing!

    • JamesterLee

      Thanks for reading!

    • Elise Martel

      Hannah sounds like a complex character. I wonder if some untold tragedy shaped her to be so cool. If her coolness is a survival technique, or if she was born with difficulty to empathize with others. Some people can understand the feelings of others, but never experience those feelings themselves, so they make for studious manipulators.

    • JamesterLee

      Great insight. There’s definitely more to Hannah. Thank you for the input

  6. Clayton

    Icy winds swept over lifeless body’s,
    ensnaring them in frost, and freezing them to the bone. A single, lonely and dying man lay between a destroyed village and an amassment of dead bodies. A lone survivor experiencing deaths, bitter cold breath, creeping its way into his body, feeling with each passing moment more and more detached from reality. His mind swarmed with the enevitability of his own death. And in an indescribable, sinister way, he felt at peace. Nothing could ever hurt, or leave him as hopeless, and forlorn as he was right now. He was content, to freeze to death, without a loved one looking over him or, anyone to comfort him in his last moments. But the gods had other plans, the fortune of this man goes beyond words, a hunting party, who had never heard of this village had stumbled upon its horror, and gruesome secrets, by pure chance, altering their lives, and the life of the man forever.

    The fire they built was intense, easily 6 feet high, and for Arryn, the warmth was the best feeling in the world. He sat huddled close, draped in a heavy travel cloak, ever shivering. The men from the hunting party were all dragging the corpses to a separate fire, about 30 yards off, Trying to cleanse as much of this village as they could. Arryn knew what they would ask him when they were done, and he didn’t want to answer to them. It wasn’t that it was so fresh in his mind that to bring it up, made him want to puke, it was the fact that he really didn’t know.(although the thought did make him feel nauseous) Arryn had walked into the village halfway into the massacre, when men had already been killed and thrown into the snow. He had entered at the south side behind the pile of bodies that was starting, and so pretended to be one of them. He had laid down and listened to the heart breaking screams of mothers watching their children be torn away from them, then having to watch them be butchered alive, before having stiff, frozen corpses tossed over his legs and body, pinning him on the snowy ground. Laying there he had been envious of the men killed first, not being forced to watch their wives and children be slaughtered infront of them would have been merciful if compared to the fate of the mothers and kids.

    The members of the party finished little before sunrise, and they came to the fire Arryn was sitting at. “Arryn” said the long brown haired man, who dressed in furs and leathers. “We need you to explain to us what happened here.” “Every little detail” added a short darker skinned man. Arryn felt a knot inside him, the answer he was about to give would not be the one they are looking for. But building up his courage, he told them his story anyway. When he finished the darker skinned man said “so you really don’t know what happened here eh?” He glanced over at the two men sitting on the opposite side of the fire, one who was sharpening a wicked looking blade, then opened a pouch on his saddle revealing a bottle of aged liquor which he uncorked with his teeth and drank heartily. “Aye” continued the leather and fur clad man “don’t it seem rather suspicious that your the only person who survived this. Tell us Arryn, what were you doing out in the bushes while everyone else was gettin’ slaughtered? Because it seems like eevery other person was cought whether they were beyond the tree line or no, I would think they would do a sweep o’er that tree line to make sure they got any person who was avoiding this here… tragedy.” He leaned in close to Arryn and he could smell liquor on his breath, his brown eyes didn’t seem as warm as they had a second ago, and he wondered if that blood on his hands had been there before he had dragged those bodies or no. “Go on answer me question” “I…..” he trailed off, he could feel his heart beat accelerate, and the pace of his breathing increase, the tall burly man who had just been sharpening the dagger came over and whispered something in the long haired mans ear, or tried to whisper because arryn cought almost every word spoken *”I don’t think this one knows what happened….. Will….. dissapointed…. we still have to gut him, I think ill take the first swing”* he turned to arryn and raised the blade over his head ready to end arryns life. In that moment as the tall bearded man was raising his dagger, time seemed to slow for arryn and he watched the events unfolding in a different sense. He saw all of the men whom he had deemed friends when they had first met, the killers of these poor people returning to clean up the mess, doing their doings slowly, as everything else happened slowly. Arryn wondered what *was* happening, it was if someone had put everything else under a spell. He could hear the breaths of the man closest to him, ‘breaths that seem to go on forever’ he thought, before thinking about how much pain he would be in if that dagger happened to cut through him, saw where it was going to strike and calmly moved down the bench not half a meter from his attacker, before the knife hit the soft wood with a loud *whack!* and time seemed to speed up again. The man looked from the knife to arryn and back down at the knife. The expression on his face was that of confusion and anger, the blade should have cut clean through the area between his shoulder and neck. But instead it had landed in the bench where Arryn *used* to be sitting he put on foot on the bench for leverage and pulled the dagger out. “You fancy yourself a magician eh?” He said “well you may be able to move without us knowing it once, but this time,” He gripped arryns throat roughly, who grabbed his hand back and tried to punch his face but the man saw it coming and moved his head out of the way “Maybe if you werent so weak and slow, that would have been a fair hit but not as it stands” “Get on with it already, we should be gone soon” said the dark man. Once again the blade was lifted into the air, and this time no time slowed in defence of Arryn, but as his hand reach the top of its path and began its descent through the cool morning air, a slender wooden arrow flew straight into his arm and he released Arryn with a scream. Another arrow followed lodging itself deep into his throat dropping him dead and lifeless into the snow. The brown palfrey who carried the dark mans liquor began to whinny loudly, and jump and kick the air wildly, it trotted off some distance into the trees. The other men reacted hastily and in confusion, their weapons were all swords and axes made for close combat and not the opposite, all they could do was try and make a run for the trees, but the arrows’ paths were true and not one was left standing. Arryn wondered whether he should run or if he should stay sitting. If he ran than the shooters could think that he was just another bandit trying to flee from death, but if he stayed where he was they could think just the same. In the end he stayed on the bench and watched as four men came walking out of the misty grey haze of the morning towards him.

    Arryn watched them walk towards him slowly and confidentally, it was as if they were walking towards an old friend, and not into a massacre . He took this time to collect his thoughts and calm his nerves, breathing in and out deeply, while the four figures grew larger and more distinguishable. They were all men, one walked with a stick of fiery wood whose top was that of a Phoenix, it’s wings spread open wide. The others carried swords both long and short, long black bows and quivers full of white fletched arrows slung around their shoulders. They looked appropriately armed and dressed for a war, as if they had foreseen one coming. But arryn hoped no more battles would happen soon, he had seen a lifetimes share of blood and death, and wanted no more lives needlessly wasted. When they got within 15 yards of Arryn they stopped and one said “we come peacefully as friends and mean no harm, be easy” Arryn nodded wondering what the point of telling him that was, they had just saved his life, he deemed them friends before he even had spoken.
    Finnally they reached their intended point infront of arryn and the two men on either side let down the hoods to their cloaks, (and robes, as the man carrying the staff was wearing) and greeted Arryn with smiles. “this is not the happiest of days, for blood has been spilt by our hands, and I suspect more by these bandits.” Said the man with the staff looking down at the man who tried to kill Arryn. “The whole village” he said softly, almost meaning for only himself to hear it, but the man in the robes heard, “The whole village,” he repeated “their must be what thirty, fourty people who lived here, did none of them give resistance? Did none of them carry weapons?”
    Arryn didn’t know. The people of the village must have had some sort of weapons, there was even a smithy in town, across from the tavern. But it mostly supplied the men with hinges, knives, and pitchforks, they were farmers here, they raised livestock and grew corn. They weren’t trained in the arts of war. But for 30 people to be murdered in a quite village in one night! It was a nightmare. “They had no suitable weapons for a fight here, he said, “they weren’t fighting folk, none of them would even have known how to weild a blade, but those who did still would have been killed with the rest.” He spat onto the ground beside him. “Yes, undoubtedly. The force here would have overwhelmed them no matter their weapons. But what am I doing, my name is Felix.”
    The man carrying a long sword on his back stepped up and shook Arryns hand saying “I am John Wesson, wanderer, ranger, witcher, hunter, take your pick.” His voice was deep and gruff and Arryn couldn’t help but stare into his eyes. They looked as if the were taken from one of the mountain wolves, deep, bright, piercing green, they gripped Arryns soul and made his stomach churn.
    The two men who were walking in the middle approched, but when they let down their hoods Arryn found that he was staring into the blue eyes of a beautiful lady. Her golden hair fell long past her shoulders, and she smiled at him parting her bright red lips that were so outlined against the fairness of her skin. But then Arryn noticed something about her, her ears were slightly pointed at the tips. “My name is marryèl” she said in a lightly accented voice. “You.. your an elf?” Arryn asked, she smiled again “Yes from the woods of ____”
    “I have never met an elf before , but my parents told me great stories of your people, of the fairness and beauty you all shared.”
    “We have been called the fair race before, but this is not a time for happiness. It is a grim time due for sorrow and mourning. This is Kilion” he shook Arryns hand but his eyes didn’t make him feel any unease, they were dark Brown like the bark of an old tree. “You have met our company, now tell us who you are” said Felix “I am Arryn Greenwood, and I am guessing that you would all wish to hear of the events that took place here” Without waiting for an answer he went on to tell the group of how he had entered partway into the killings, had been pinned to the ground by frozen bodies, been found by the hunting party, then how he had been saved from death. He left out when he had bent time for he had no idea how anything like that had happened, and because he didn’t want any mistrust from them. They listened to hos story attentively, and never once broke in on him. When he finished, Kilion said “What I don’t understand is why they came back to burn the bodies.”
    “Yes, and why they would even bother to save me, they could have killed me right when I was in the snow but they didnt.” Said Arryn
    “I know not the answer to those. But we may still be able figure this out. We have a killing of over 30 people by some unknown bandits, then they flee, all the bodies are left out to the elements, but some come back, burn the bodies, rescue and then try to kill you” said Felix who was leaning on his walking stick infront of Arryn. The others had sat on the other benches that were encircling the now dwindling fire. Arryn pulled his cloak tighter about him, warding off the chill. “What if they realized that they had left behind something that they may be tracked by. A mark on the bodies perhaps? It would explain why they came back to burn them.”
    “Aye, they might have branded them before they killed them, as a show of dominance or power.” Said Kilion. All the while they spoke of the mysteries of the killings John Wesson sat silently, face hidden under the shadow of his cowl. Between his lips sat a brown pipe, everytime he inhaled from it, the glowing red embers illuminated his eyes, causing them to take on a dark demonic red-green glow. Arryn refused to look at him, he made him feel uneasy, intimidated almost, so he kept his attention on the conversation.
    “Arryn show us to where the bodies lay, if you will.” Said Felix Arryn got up and said “Of course, just follow me” he began to walk towards the hill. It was to the right of their fire, and across the road that lead through the centre of town. It was one of the many rolling hills that dotted the countryside, each looked like a pile of sugar to Arryn, they reminded him of times when he would help his mom cook when he was little. He would always spill something be it sugar or spice, and now in his adulthood he wished it was ingredients being spilt

    This is a very, very, very rough draft of a story, please don’t be to critical, but please give me some advice 🙂 (I’m a newbie)

    Reply
  7. Eliese

    I was dreaming of gold, gems, and jewels when Cecelia wakes me. My heart plummets. Why would a servant wake me. There must be something wrong. All I can think of is Eddie.

    “Please Miss. Your Mother and Father are already in your brother’s room. They would like you to be there.” Cecelia whispers.

    “But is Eddie okay? Tell me.” Panics begins to overwhelm me.

    “Mistress, he is not well. The potion the fairy gave him has failed. You should be with him.” My emotions spill over into tears. I sob as Cecelia holds my shaking body.

    After a moment we both regain control. We walk in silence. As we come closer we can hear the rasping breath of the sick child. When we enter the room everyone is standing around the little boy’s bed. The candlelight has grown dim creating dark shadows. The circles under my family’s sleepless eyes grow long. The air is filled with tension and unshed tears. I walk slowly to my brother’s bedside and sit down beside him.

    I am frozen with grief. I want to stop the world from spinning and give my brother as much time as possible. Or reverse it to the days when he was laughing and running. Instead all I can do is be with him and wait for the inevitable.

    We all just wait.

    Reply
    • Monica

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Eliese

      Thanks. I was nervous to post this.

    • JamesterLee

      The sense of an impending doom in this excerpt is heartbreaking. The word choice is “the sick child” is an interesting choice, separating the narrator from her brother. You can almost sense the emotional separation as they “wait for the inevitable.” I’m curious to see the relationship development between the Narrator and Cecelia. Initially she’s just referred to as a servant, but then she becomes a close companion, even being included as a “we” when dealing with such a traumatic thing. Good luck with your work!

    • Eliese

      Your comment made me think and smile. It is interesting to see what someone feels when they read this, and heartbreaking is what I wanted. 🙂 Thank you.

  8. Elise Martel

    Ok, so I didn’t write this in 15 minutes, but this backstory in the novel that I am working on.

    Whip-poor-will, the little brown bird sang.
    Claec could see it now, perched in the elbow of a branch, all
    fluffy and soft, with sleepy eyes. It didn’t know. Didn’t know that every time
    it sang, he’d been beat.
    He moved his jaw from side to side, trying to stop the swell
    of hatred expanding inside of him. It hurt to breathe. Humidity’s hands were
    inside his mouth now, trying to blow up a balloon in his throat.
    A lucid streak of a moonbeam filtered through the trees and
    rested on an overturned log at Claec’s feet. As if startled by the sudden
    light, the whippoorwill swept off of its perch, flapping down to the brush near
    Claec. It investigated the rotten leaves beside him, blissfully
    oblivious to his presence.
    You don’t even know, Claec thought. You don’t even know that
    I held a whippoorwill once.
    Claec’s hands shook as he remembered the bird struggling to
    get away from him. Its flapping wings were soft against his bare chest. It
    wanted to escape. It wanted to be free.
    Pull its wings off, Perth instructed. Make it suffer! What
    are you, chicken? His taunting voice shook Claec up.
    Perth shoved his dirty little face close to Claec. Remember,
    it sings, we get beat, he said. He gave Claec’s calf a savage little kick with
    his big toe.
    Still Claec hesitated. Still he wavered.
    Perth’s face moved in again. He reeked. Of wine. Just like
    Mrs. Packard. Do you want, he asked, his voice lowering a little, me to tell
    Sachi?
    Even now, Claec’s heart winced. Tell her what? Tell her that
    I ripped the wings off of a bird? He knew what was coming, but he fought
    against it.
    No, Perth said. Tell her that you could’ve prevented her
    getting beat, but you didn’t.
    Claec inhaled sharply.
    Whatcha waiting for? Perth moved in for the kill. Guess you
    don’t really love her, Claec. If you did, that bird’d be way long gone.
    Claec, driven to anger, yanked one feather from the
    fluttering wings. The bird shuddered. He could feel its little heart drumming
    in between his fingers. It was terrified. Of him.
    Perth took the feather from Claec’s fingers. That’s right,
    he said. Keep it up. One feather at a time. Pull em off nice and slow.
    Claec’s fingers rebelled. Too angry to hurt, he let the bird go.
    Funny how one little sound transported him back to a ten
    year old boy all over again. He let the whippoorwill hop toward him. It wasn’t
    the bird’s fault that it sang. It was born to sing. Just like horses were born
    to run and fish were born to swim. That’s the way God made them. Sachi told him
    that. Fine, he said back. But God sure could’ve made them sing somewhere else.

    Reply
  9. chloee

    I walked home in the rain. My long red hair clung to my face. I stuck my hands in my pocket staring at the ground. Hey! Rodney Fluch Yelled. Rodney and his goons lived to pick on kids but they loved to torment me. Girl! Stop! I just walked faster. A large meaty hand grabbed my right shoulder sharpley. I winced in pain. What do you want Rodney? I asked. Going home to mommy and daddy. Oh that’s right you don’t have any mommy or daddy because they’re dead. Flash backs if my old life with my family came flying into my mind. Leave me alone Rodney. I said quietly. I heard they died in a fire. Rodney smiled slyly. Did they? Did you watch them burn or did you run like a coward? flash backs of the fire burned in my mind. My cries for help. I tried to run in to save my mom and dad but it was too late. Rodney pulled out a lighter. Let’s watch her beg boys. Rodneys goons laughed like orges. Rodney pulled the lighter up to my face until the heat started to burn. The flames kept out like the fire. Something snapped in me. I tackled Rodney to the ground. You little son of a bitch! I yelled. I punched him so hard in the nose blood exploed as soon as I made contact. My eye sight went red ikept punching and puniching till his face was just a bruised bloody mess. I got him in the left eye, puncheed him in the nose, andmessed up his jaw. I stood up breathing like a wild animal. My body shook with anger . My hands were clutched in balls ready to punch again. Rodney whimpered like a little baby. He held his face trying to stop the throbbing pain. the rain came down harder. I growled leave me alone! If you ever talk to me like that again your be in the hostptial for a week. Rodney scrambled to get away in horror over a girl just beat him up.I breathed slower and calmed down a bit. What did I do. I felt proud and a little up set. I walked back to the house

    Reply
  10. Neil Chhabra

    I am also a lawyer trying to knock out my first novel. I found your post very helpful. Figuring out where to place back story has been a huge issue for me and reading your post confirmed my intuition. Thanks and best of luck with your book.

    Reply

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