Backstory, Info Dumps and Character Intros

I recently edited the beginning of my mess-in-progress, pruning out some backstory that didn’t need to be in the first scene.

When I first joined RWA, the standard advice for newbies was to avoid the Dreaded Info Dump in the first chapter and just trickle in details from the characters’ past as needed. And I generally follow this advice, as I did this time.

But I never became No-Info-Dump Purist (or a Goal-Motivation-and-Conflict Purist, or a H/H-Must-Meet-On-First-Page Purist) or really bought into any of the hard and fast rules beloved by some critique groups. The reason is early in my RWA education I also read some amazing books that broke rules. Intelligently, of course.

On one end of the backstory spectrum is Loretta Chase’s LORD OF SCOUNDRELS. It starts with a summary of the hero’s life from birth onwards. I have heard NID Purists protest—maybe they are just jealous. Readers in general and the judges of the 1995 RITA didn’t care. I think the beginning works because 1) it’s fast-paced and entertainingly written and 2) it really does help prepare the reader for Dain’s beastly behavior.

I found the opposite extreme in another favorite, Laura Kinsale’s FOR MY LADY’S HEART. The most heartwrenching details of the heroine’s backstory are held back until near the end of the book. Readers who love this book sense that there is something tragic that caused the heroine to develop such strong and sometimes sinister defenses. When it is revealed, it makes for a very powerful scene.

Anyway, how do you like your backstory served up? Any favorite rule-breaking stories?

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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