Over the years, I’ve had to tackle the issue of back story.  Back story, of course, is crucial in some novels. In others, writers might want to find different ways of bringing the past to life, perhaps through dialogue.

I like back story, but I would admit it has the tendency to slow down the pace of the story.  As a reader, I prefer to experience the now, the rising tension, the move towards a conclusion.  I don’t like sudden interruptions and journeys into the past, especially dated sections of writing.  And yet, some novels wouldn’t function properly without back story.

I’ve tried a different approach in my second novel, a psychological thriller set in the north of England.  Instead of taking the reader back into the past, I insert short sections at the start of certain chapters, concentrating on simplicity and immediacy.

Here’s an example:

They say I never went to the caretaker’s house, only Gordon did. But I did go, and so did Wayne Winters. I remember the three of us going and I remember the house. I doubt I shall ever forget. Faded curtains. Musty smells. Shabby carpets. Elusive dancing shadows behind the loose banisters on the staircase. Model aeroplanes littering the sitting room.  Spitfires. Lancaster Bombers.

The whole place had a dark and gloomy feel, as if the house concealed years of secrets. The creaking floorboards used to conjure up images of ghosts watching us, causing me to turn cold with fright. Yet, the house never seemed to scare Wayne and Gordon. They liked exploring, going into forbidden rooms. Once, I ran up and down those stairs, searching for Wayne and Gordon who were hiding from me. Their giggles gave them away. I was frightened of the ghosts, but I tried not to let Gordon and Wayne see in case they thought I was a scaredy-cat.

When Wayne came with us, he always got overexcited. He loved the model aeroplanes in the sitting room. He’d reach out and touch them, but Gordon would have to warn him off. For we all knew that Vince Macarthur was a kind man who wouldn’t begrudge anyone a chocolate biscuit and a glass of lemonade. But he was a man with a temper, a man who’d give the three of us what-four if we damaged his planes.  And none of us wanted that.


3 thoughts on “Novel Writing:The Immediacy Experiment

  1. As far as not slowing your reader down with back story, i think the paragraphs progress quickly. Great deal of info in those 3 paragraphs—in terms of character, old fears, and descriptors of the house itself.

  2. hmmm, very interesting – and what a novel idea, Lawrence! Does the chapter begin in the present after this? And are the two sections somehow connected?

  3. Thanks, Dustus. I really enjoyed writing that section. Flowed easily.

    Jennifer, hi, yes, the chapter opens in present tense. The section quoted comes before the chapter. I’m hoping this arrangement will work. Thanks for commenting.

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