Top Ten Mistakes New Writers Make


By Suzanne Hartmann

(Part of the Top Ten Mistakes New Writers Make series)

Definition: large chunks of information about events that take place before the novel begins, often history about the main character.

Example: The main character was a victim of theft six months ago and she thinks her ex-fiancé did it. A backstory dump would drop in all of the information on when it happened, what was missing, and why she thinks her ex-fiancé was behind it.

Correction: Parcel out the backstory in tiny bits throughout the story. Place it where it is important in the story. Resist the urge to explain everything and only include enough to explain what is currently happening.

In the above example, let’s say the main character has been through as series of events which have brought her to the brink of poverty.
Backstory dumps could be inserted in the following places:

1. She’s scouring the house for items she can sell on-line to get some quick cash and thinks of all the things she lost in the robbery that she could have sold.
2. Her ex calls with information that could lead to a windfall for her. She remembers why she thinks he was behind the robbery and wonders if she can trust him.

Why we should avoid backstory dumps:
1. They don’t move the story forward.
2. They slow down the pace of the story.
3. Less backstory is needed to explain the events of the novel than most new authors think. Only put in enough to explain something the reader MUST know to understand the current events.
4. Agents and editors don’t like to see backstory dumps on the first page. Some don’t even like to see them in the first three chapters.
5. They often jar the reader because they stop the forward motion of the story, jump backward, then drop the reader into the current story again.


Suzanne Hartmann is the author of PERIL: Fast Track Thriller #1, and Write This Way: Take Your Writing to a New Level, a blueprint for new authors to guide them through the process of writing and revising a novel.

Suzanne is a homeschool mom and lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and three children. When not homeschooling or writing, she enjoys scrapbooking, reading, and Bible study. On the editorial side, she is a contributing editor with Port Yonder Press and operates the Write This Way Critique Service.

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