They really should call December CleUMessNoMo, for Clean Up Your Messy Novel Month. And that kind of looks like clueless. I think that’s fitting because many writers, especially new and inexperienced writers are clueless about what to take out of the hot mess that is their Nanowrimo Project.
If you have any doubt, this handy list can help you address the backstory problem you may have in your little darling. Backstory is great for writers who need to know the true motivation of their characters. Backstory is not great for readers who are aching for action and just want the writer to get to the point! Tell the story for crying out loud!
You May Have Too Much Backstory If . . .
1. You have too much backstory when you have told your reader how everyone is related to everyone else in the first two paragraphs.
2. You’ve listed three items on your main character’s resume.
3. You’ve mentioned you protagonist’s high school experiences and your main character is 27.
4. An old boyfriend makes an appearance and your MC flashbacks to the break up scene.
5. It’s in the first chapter.
6. You defend yourself by saying that Dickens or somebody a 100 years ago did it so you’re doing it too.
7. When you’ve stopped the big action between the dragon and the knight to tell the reader how the sword the knight is using was forged by the elf who was once engaged to the driad, who died of a curse from a witch, who lives in the hut in the enchanted forest, that is full of fairies who sing in a full moon, which only comes out once a year because this story takes place on another planet in another galaxy that was formed billions of years ago.
8. When you catch yourself saying, “but I RESEARCHED clothing in 1820 Poland! My reader needs to see how hard I worked!”
9. When you have conveniently forgotten that the purpose of Nanowrimo is quantity and these passages with too much backstory are likely that night you stayed up until 3 AM and you were just padding the stupid thing with any words you could think of.
10. You’re so into telling, rather than showing, that you named your main character William Tell. He lives in Tell City, Indiana, he has a job as a teller, and for vacation he goes to Telluride.
You may also have too much backstory when you’ve got too much backstory when the action that progresses the story forward has stalled or stopped. You may have too much when you feel like there’s a pause button because you need to explain something. You may have too much when you use your research and notes and notes of character development as justification. You may have too much when you think that padding your word count will do you favors. You may have too much when you find yourself head hopping. You may have too much when you think that detailing people’s opinions of other characters is an excuse for head hopping. You may have too much when you have referred to childhood trama way too early. You may have too much when the details that you have to share reveal a secret, which, would be best suited saved until much later. You may have too much when you’ve decided that a little backstory is easier to write than action or dialogue.
Every word you put down is NOT golden. Don’t be afraid to cut backstory. Your readers will thank you and your work will be better for it.