Backstory: Is it necessary? Should it go at the start of the narrative?

A novel’s backstory can slow down the pace of the narrative.  When I read a novel I like to get straight to the heart of the story so it immediately grasps my attention.  Often a backstory is not required.  It is useful as it helps authors understand what motivates the characters they create.  But it may not be needed in the text for readers to understand the plot.  Once a backstory has been written it is often deleted during the editing process but if it is needed to flesh out the characters for the reader then the author must decide at what point it should be inserted to have the best effect.

The backstory in my novel, “Magic Bullets”, kicks in at chapter five when the protagonist hears that the first serious love of his life had died and I decided to show what happened during their relationship rather than simply tell another story.  I began the novel with a terrorist attack.  The episode itself does not occur until three quarters of the way through the book as I wanted to grasp reader’s attention from the start.

I differentiated these out of sequence events from the linear narrative by changing the font to italics.  Judging by the reviews most readers liked this approach.  There were a few who did not care fore the book but I do not think that their opinions had much to do with the structure.  They simply did not like the story.  Still you cannot please every one.

Keith Jahans

Available through

2 Responses to Backstory: Is it necessary? Should it go at the start of the narrative?

  1. juliecround says:

    Hi Keith, I think you are doing it the right way. Advice is to weave the backstory in after the introductory action, although some people use a Prologue. As long as it is clear who is doing what to whom it is better to grab the reader’s attention and make them curious, rather than telling them the history of the place or the family the story is about.
    I have TWO books on the go at present. One does start with backstory as I needed to say the character was widowed, the other starts with a girl falling down a hole ( remind you of anyone?)
    I am using New Generation and doing it on Print on Demand just to see if I sell any more copies that way. If it doesn’t work I’ll go back to my own version of self publishing, or stop altogether.
    My talks are still proving profitable and I’ll carry on until I run out of copies.
    Best Wishes, Julie.


    • peatmore says:

      Hi Julie. Thank you for your comment. As with most things to do with writing there are no hard and fast rules. I set out my views on the backstory following a conversation I had recently with fellow writing as I got the impression that most like to see it at the beginning of the story. It will be interesting to see what other comments I get. Selling books is hard. I only sell one or two books per month. I do not think any of the writers I know make much money out of it. Please let me know when your next book comes out. Best wishes Keith


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