One of the most difficult areas of fiction has to be dealing with flash backs or back story. Couple that with your novel's opening and it's a train wreck for most writers. The writer must know her character in detail. Yet often those details somehow make their way into the opening scenes. The result is often a stagnant beginning instead of the dynamic, compelling one the writer hopes to craft.
Writing Tip for Today: Novel openings and back story, as a general rule, don't mix. Remember the cold mashed potatoes rule? Not to be crass, but there's a reason back story is BS. What are the dangers?
- Keep it Real Time. When a reader meets a character, that reader instinctively leans forward, keen on action. In back story, the real-time character is usually sitting around thinking about something that is already old news. If your character is sitting and thinking, the problems we discussed last post crop up: either the character is riding somewhere, staring out the window or even simply sitting. Character is almost always ALONE on stage, doing little or nothing (except thinking up a storm). Readers want movement.
- Look for HADs. If you aren't sure about your opening scene, check for "had." Had in front of a verb denotes "past perfect" tense. Besides cluttering sentences, hads slow down the action.
- No Chunking. If your story requires a back story reference, keep it brief. You can think of your back story as only necessary on a need-to-know basis. Only disclose back story a sentence or two at a time, and weave it into the real-time action. Your reader won't be prone to getting lost in the story and will still understand what bits of past history she needs to know.