I’ll admit – I skim a lot of back story (backstory? back-story?) when I’m reading. It’s not that I don’t want to know what happened earlier, or why characters are acting/doing/saying what they are, but honestly, I just get bored reading more than a page or so of it at a time. I want action! Dialogue! Emotional angst interrupted by…someone or something! That probably says far more about my attention span than about any author’s writing in particular.
When I’m writing, I’m constantly struggling with how much back story to include where, and how. I like introspection for revealing back story when it doesn’t work embedded in the action or dialogue, and while I try to keep it to a minimum, I worry that I’m going on for too long, that my readers will get bored, and start skimming through it. I honestly can’t gauge whether that will happen or not, and I don’t think anyone can – because every reader is different. Some have a higher “tolerance” and/or desire for back story than others.
Then I go too far the other way, and try to work back story into every little bit of action/dialogue I can without it sounding forced…but inevitably, there’s just no way to include enough without a ’bout of introspection again to even things out. Add to that the need for some transitions along the timeline that provide perfect introspective “breaks”, along with the fact that sometimes back story can be a great device for allowing the reader to “rest” in between particularly active/emotional scenes, and it becomes one big balancing act.
I think every writer probably has to develop their own “recipe” for how much back story to include where. It’s like salt, sometimes you need more, sometimes less. If used incorrectly, it can ruin the whole “dish”. But without it, the flavor will never be as bright as it should.
How do you deal with back story? Is it something you just know “instinctively” when to add more or less, or do you have to take care not to use too much or too little? Do you like to read introspective or expositional back story, or do you skim after a certain point?