Is the past important?

You know that little thing called back story? It agonizes writers, because we want the reader to understand what went on before, so they can better understand what is happening now. Unfortunately, readers aren’t as in love with went on before. Usually, they are more interested in what is going on now. They like the action to start, the characters to have dialog meaningful for the now. Thus, the agony begins. We write prologs, first paragraphs, first chapters, hoping to get the back story out there and not bore the reader. Then we realize we really are boring the reader and we cut and edit and revise and make sure the story starts with something catchy; and we try to get our characters’ pasts somewhere else in the book.

So this begs the question. Are our characters’ pasts actually important? Important enough to put in the novel? Or is it just the crazy writers wanting to whole story to be told.

I think the question has a simple answer, and that is… it depends. On the story. On the writer’s way of writing the story. On if the back story is necessary to understand the current story.

However, don’t take this as a “oh, if your story needs back story then let it go.” Don’t let your story slow down. Find a way around info dumping.

In my book, The Virginity Thief, the past of my characters is important. It affects what they are doing now. I wasn’t worried about this, because back story, if done tastefully, will enhance a story rather than bog it down. I worked hard on making the past feel less like back story and more like the actual story. And there is the catch. “Back story” done well enough isn’t back story. It is part of the current story, and the goal of the writer – to tell the whole tale – is attained.

Don’t just cut chapters of back story. Find a way to bring the info throughout the novel in ways that enhance the novel. That is all.

Now, tell me about your books (ones you’ve either written or, for the readers here on Creare, read). Was/Is the past important enough to put in the novel?