I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, October 11, 2010

Backstory Blues

I don’t know about you, but I love a character’s backstory. I love figuring out what makes my characters tick. Not only do I love the stories of how they came to be, but I want my readers to love that about my characters too.

The problem is, nobody wants to read your character’s life story in your first chapter as a backstory dump (not even your mother, really). So how do you unload all those golden nuggets in a tantalizing fashion?

At a recent writer’s seminar I attended, the speaker shared her technique for beating the backstory blues. Write them in blue. No, seriously.

If you are dying to tell the backstory, write a mini story, the character’s backstory, in a separate document and make the font blue. (You might actually have already done this, but title it Chapter One.)

There. Not only is the backstory told, but an agent won’t have to slog through it to get to the point in chapter one where your novel actually starts.

Okay, you are probably thinking something like, thanks Ames, that is so not a helpful tip. You want me to write two stories? Forget the agent slogging through it later, I’m slogging through now.

Fear not, here’s the tip: After you write your backstory blues, start writing your first chapter. Cut and paste the blue-font backstory you want to include into your chapter, exactly as it is. Really. You can go back and weave the entire thought into a little nugget later. This has two benefits. It will ensure you include relevant nuggets of backstory to entice the reader to read further, and it will also make you glaringly aware of potential backstory dumps.

So, writers, ponder the backstory blues of your novel today. What golden nuggets do your readers need to appreciate your story now and what might pack more punch later?

Happy writing,


URGENT PRAYER REQUEST: Please pray for fellow Ponderer, Teri Smith. While on a trip overseas (London) with her daughter, Teri suffered an aneurysm. As of Sunday night, Teri is in stable condition. The doctors have sedated her and will run tests in the morning and determine what to do then. Her husband is traveling to England today.


  1. Oh, great post, Ames! Love the dump truck image, as well as the tip about blue font.

    I cracked up when I read this line: (You might actually have already done this, but titled it Chapter One…)

    Lots of great nuggets of wisdom in your post! Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  2. Yes, everyone, please keep our fellow Ponderer Teri in your prayers. We love her! (We love you, Teri!)

  3. Thanks LJ! I definitely did that, but titled it chapter one!

  4. Thanks for this solid and funny tip. Yes, I write lots of chapter ones. Am relearning...as we pray for and love Teri.

  5. Oh wow, such a good idea, Amy. Love it! Never thought of doing something like that. Also, I LOL-ed at the same line as Lisa. Hehe...

    Praying for Teri!

  6. Great idea, Amy. I may have to write my backstory in blue and bold it too.
    Praying for Teri too, and thankful that God unites us as we are spread out all over the world!

  7. Thanks guys. It definitely makes you "see" it in your stuff. And, LJ or Beth, whoever added the prayer for Teri, thanks. I was going to, but wasn't sure it was okay.

  8. Lisa suggested it and I told her I'd do it, since it was so late on the east coast. Glad to do it!

  9. Amy, I love this idea. :) I actually wrote out my main characters' (yes, two) backstories before I began writing "their" story (and, believe it or not, NOT as chapter one!). :) Now, I will go back and change it to blue and use as you described. :) Loved your practical tips.

    I'm praying for Teri and her family too. Please keep us updated out here in blog land.

  10. Amy, I've heard of this before - neat concept. Backstory is what makes our characters tick, and as writers we want everyone to know our characters like we do.

    Its like when we meet the love of our life and we want everyone to know everything about them because their wonderful, and so special, and just an all round great person. Sooner or later, even our best friends eyes glaze over!

    Keeping Teri in my prayers! I love the idea of adding it to the blog.

  11. Jeanne, way to go on NOT calling it chapter 1! You are leaps and bounds ahead of me! Thanks for keeping Teri in your prayers. We'll keep you posted.

  12. Jennie, you've heard of this before and not told us?!? You've been holding out on us, young lady...

  13. I have a nickname for Jennie . . . J.W., for Jennie the Writer!

  14. I was once told to just cut out the first chapter and start with chapter two...'cause chapter one is usually all backstory. (In my case, they were right!)
    I like the backstory "blues" much better - makes it easier to weave in later...

  15. You're welcome Ava. Glad it helped!

  16. Great Post, Ames. Love your voice! Very practical too. I like the idea of the blue font.

    It's so hard not to tell everything we know about our hero/heroine, but if we think about it, we don't start out knowing everything about our friends when we meet them. We learn about them in bits and pieces.

    Praying for Teri, too.