by Jennifer Stevenson
Today my darling husband read a scene I’d just written and said, “You might want to hold back this piece of insight into his character, because you don’t want to cheapen him.”
I boggled. “Fascinating.”
“Am I being stupid?” he said.
“Heck no. This is an important part of how readers feel about character. I’m really interested in this idea, but I don’t get it yet.”
He explained. “If you hold it back, and we learn this about him later as things unfold, it adds depth and layers to him. If we learn about it now, it just kind of builds a cardboard box around him, like, This is who he is, end of story.”
My brilliant husband.
Of course this echoes a rule from the great Lynn Kerstan: “No backstory. Ever. Never in chapter one. Never in chapter two. Not in chapter three, either, no matter how badly you want to do it. Let it come out between the two main characters in dialogue. That way it becomes part of the internal plot, part of the unfolding of their relationship, rather than an expository lump that falls on the reader’s head.”
Apparently the reader feels it is falling on the character’s head, too, to ill effect.
New rule. “Early backstory cheapens your character.”