Preface and backstory.

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BransfordGroupie
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Preface and backstory.

Post by BransfordGroupie » December 8th, 2009, 2:17 am

Afternoon all.

When I started writing my WIP (first draft 95% complete), I wrote a preface of approx 400 words which consisted of a little of the MC's back story (ie; how she came to be in an asylum and that she has a one-of-a-kind type of amnesia). This is information I want the reader to know before the story begins and is written in a way that would 'hook' the reader. The problem: I was advised that back story and even prefaces (to a lesser degree) are somewhat frowned upon. So I shelved the preface and weaved that information into the main story. Now I don't like it as much as I did when I had the preface. Should I go with my instincts and leave the preface or should I follow the advice?
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samdowning
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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by samdowning » December 8th, 2009, 3:33 am

I kinda prefer the idea of that information being revealed throughout the story, rather than it being spoonfed in one big lump. It sounds like without the preface, your WIP starts off without readers knowing why the protag is in an asylum - which is more compelling than being told why she's in there straight off.

On the other hand. If you are absolutely, straight-up, dead set on starting it with a preface, go with your instincts - you're the writer, after all. Then when it's complete put it out there for critiquers and get a second opinion.

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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by Scott » December 8th, 2009, 8:46 am

What's your genre, BG?

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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by Jude Hardin » December 8th, 2009, 9:06 am

Info dumps are usually boring. I say get on with the story.

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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by gilesth » December 8th, 2009, 9:37 am

That's a hard question to handle. To say that a preface or prologue is frowned upon is unfair considering how many books contain them. Look at Jim Butcher's Codex Alera: at least three of the six books in that series are New York Times Bestsellers, and they ALL have prologues and epilogues. The best way to answer this question for yourself is to see if there is any way to fit the back story into the body of your manuscript in a way that doesn't hinder the story, and more importantly, see how a test audience feels about what you've already written. I hope that helps :)

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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by polymath » December 8th, 2009, 1:39 pm

A preface is an author's introduction to a story. A prologue is an opening introduction narrated by a narrator or character within the body of a story. A prelude is an introduction of an action or an event preparatory to a main action or event. Backstory is pertinent detail happening in the past time of a story's beginning time related in a timely time of a story. Backstory traditionally is conveyed in exposition mode, a narrative mode for relating timely, pertinent details essential to understanding a story. However, while not entirely outmoded, relating backstory in an up-front exposition block is widely deprecated, but not altogether forbidden. Backstory is a best practice when it starts a story's main action or leads dramatically into it or is timely related as indicated.

Timely, pertinent backstory is backstory that's significant to a viewpoint character at the time it's related, and therefore significant to readers. Backstory can be interleaved with a story's action, or be in part part of the action itself, or it can be in a block or blocks up front or soon after an inciting crisis or introduction of main characters and the main dramatic action as long as it's dramatic and not merely a deluge of detail disconnected to the main action or drama of a story. It can be in description, introspection, action, narration, emotion, sensation, summarization, exposition, conversation, recollection, explanation, or transition modes, in a single mode or in a combination of modes. Diane's Secret, a mnemonic for writing modes.
Last edited by polymath on December 8th, 2009, 1:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Mira
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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by Mira » December 8th, 2009, 1:43 pm

For what it's worth, my feedback is: I wouldn't worry about something being 'frowned upon'.

Do what feels best to you in your story.

If it really is a problem, you'll get feedback about that after the fact, and it will be easier to make changes that fit well with the story. But it may not be a problem!

For now, absolutely, do what feels right. There are many examples of good prologues, and also examples of writers who do things that are 'frowned upon' but make them work.

Good luck!

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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by shadow » December 8th, 2009, 1:50 pm

Hey there, you read my mind, lol. I have been debating with the same thoughts over and over again lately. I suggest keeping the preface, I mean it's better that way so readers know more about the MC but like don't give everything away. My story actually starts with my MC brooding over an event in his past that would change him in the readers eyes. If I took that part out, the readers would think he is really a cold blooded killer. I am still unsure myself, but I think that that is a strong enough reason to keep your preface.
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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by BransfordGroupie » December 8th, 2009, 5:56 pm

Scott wrote:What's your genre, BG?
Scott. It's YA (or maybe "New Adult") Supernatural/Paranormal Suspense Romance. A mouthful I know.
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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by Anna » December 8th, 2009, 7:24 pm

Backstory is like foreplay.. too much of it can be a bit annoying. Sometimes, you just want to get to it.

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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by linguista » December 8th, 2009, 10:58 pm

What I've found works with prefaces I've read is not giving all the information. I like when a book has a preface, but you're left wondering the details of what happened or how they relate to the story, etc.

I had the opposite problem in my last novel. I felt like there were too many flashbacks, and I wondered if it was making the action choppy, or if it would disorient the reader. I've only just finished that book, so I've yet to have it critiqued. It might all be in my imagination.

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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by BransfordGroupie » December 9th, 2009, 12:28 am

linguista wrote:What I've found works with prefaces I've read is not giving all the information. I like when a book has a preface, but you're left wondering the details of what happened or how they relate to the story, etc.

I had the opposite problem in my last novel. I felt like there were too many flashbacks, and I wondered if it was making the action choppy, or if it would disorient the reader. I've only just finished that book, so I've yet to have it critiqued. It might all be in my imagination.
Lin. That's is what my preface does (or did). I think my preface left the reader with those questions of what happened and how it relates to the main story and so on.
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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by Scott » December 9th, 2009, 10:32 am

Scott. It's YA (or maybe "New Adult") Supernatural/Paranormal Suspense Romance. A mouthful I know.
Cheers. I ask because I write horror type stuff and the bulk of the readership I'm shooting for would totally "get" a prologue because backstory crafted at the start of a story is very similar to how horror films and the like are done. We're in a Visual Media generation now, and according to how my genre is handled in that context, I think a prologue/epilogue structure would appeal. Famed horror author Jonathan Maberry does this, too, and when I open one of his books it gets me into my "horror zone".

So, maybe research some Paranormal Romance and see how it's being done. My hunch is that, because it's highly visual "genre material", prologues will be received well.

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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by casnow » December 10th, 2009, 6:35 am

If you don't want to go with a preface or prologue, would it be possible to maybe start the book with a short dialogue between let's say a nurse and a doctor at the clinic.
Nurse: "I feel so sorry for that woman... she can't remember a thing."
Doc: "I know. To end up in a place like this with the such an unusual type of amnesia... apparently it's caused by rabid bats laying eggs in her hair."
Nurse: "Do you know how she got here?"

Etc, etc... you could probably do it in a few 100 words, a simple conversation that takes place in the asylum... if that is where the story starts, than maybe you can lump it in with other physical descriptions... in the end, only you know though.

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Re: Preface and backstory.

Post by BransfordGroupie » December 11th, 2009, 10:46 pm

casnow wrote:If you don't want to go with a preface or prologue, would it be possible to maybe start the book with a short dialogue between let's say a nurse and a doctor at the clinic.
Nurse: "I feel so sorry for that woman... she can't remember a thing."
Doc: "I know. To end up in a place like this with the such an unusual type of amnesia... apparently it's caused by rabid bats laying eggs in her hair."
Nurse: "Do you know how she got here?"

Etc, etc... you could probably do it in a few 100 words, a simple conversation that takes place in the asylum... if that is where the story starts, than maybe you can lump it in with other physical descriptions... in the end, only you know though.
Hmmmm... wonder if I can work the rabid bats into the story. Thanks for the help Cas. It's still only first draft, so should be able to weave it in a little better and spread the information out. At the moment it feels more of an 'info dump' now than it did as a preface. But as I said, I think I can dribble the info over the first few chapters rather than in half a page.
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