Backstory by Ebony McKenna

This week we have Australian author Ebony McKenna with us. 

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Writing advice: Getting the backstory away from the front of your book.

  Every competition entry I’ve read in the past year (and in the years before that) has started strongly. (Huge congrats if you’ve entered a romance writing competition in Australia, I may have been your judge!) Alas, many entries became tangled in backstory before the actual story could get started. A few pages in to a new story, I’m getting to know the characters then BAM! Flash back to four months ago. Of four years. Or more.

Writing backstory is an easy trap for a writer to fall into. Many writers (myself included) write backstory subconsciously as a way of writing their way into the story and getting to know the characters. This is fine in the draft stage, but often it stays in, draft after draft, because the writer becomes attached to it.
It needs to go.

Why? Because you’re getting in the way of your own story.

Have confidence that your story will show readers what’s going on, rather than you having to step in and tell people what the story is about.

Why should you remove backstory?

Because it runs the risk of becoming an infodump of ‘tell’ and good writing is all about showing not telling, and it’s all about inviting readers in to your world.
Backstory makes a reader sit in the corner and wait.

If you use the ‘building a house’ analogy about writing a novel, backstory is the mess left behind on your vacant block of land. A few tree stumps of memories, maybe a boulder or two of emotional baggage. You need to clear that away in order to build something stable and lasting.

A hint of backstory is great. It creates interest and a little intrigue and shows the reader that your heroine is a fully fleshed-out person who clearly has a couple of decades of issues under her belt – but you’re not going to weigh everything down right now with the whole thing.

Your heroine’s life up in until now needs to be something of a mystery. If the reader knows everything right at the start, then there’s nothing left to reveal later on.

Backstory does not belong at the front of the book.
“Oh really? Then where can I put the backstory?” You ask.
That is up to you.
“Now you tell me?”
The key is to sprinkle in hints and sow seeds as you go, but my general rule of thumb is that you always need so much less than you ever thought.
And then halve it.

This is an exited excerpt from Edit Your Own Romance Novel by Ebony McKenna, out May 28

Edit Your Own Romance Novel: The romance-friendly structure authors need to be objective about their own work

Many books will teach you how to write, but this book takes the extra step and gives writers the tools they need to become objective about their own writing, and edit their own novels. 

Ebony McKenna has taken elements from many established story structures and created a romance-friendly format that romance novelists will love. Not sure how to get from the middle of the book to the Black Moment? Ms McKenna's step-by-step instructions will get your story back on track.



  1. Hi Ashelyn and Ebony ... helpful advice here ... knowing we will almost certainly need to cut some of the story lines ...cheers Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary, it's a tricky thing, but after a while you realise cutting most of it out is better for the reader in the end.

  2. I like to find backstory sprinkled throughout the story. It does take practice to get it right.

    1. Hi C Lee, great to see you again (it's been a while but I 'won' a grammar guide from you a fair while back and I love it so much). It does take practice to get it right, but once a writer develops confidence in themselves and the reader, the story can really power along.

  3. I totally agree. Backstory should exist in single sentences sprinkled between action & dialog where necessary. It's definitely important for us to know the backstory though, and thus the writing of it in early drafts is totally valid.

    1. Hi Crystal, obviously I agree with you. Backstory is a little like breadcrums to keep us interested along the way.