Sin #1: Incorrect use of back story
Unless your book opens with a birth scene then your character will most definitely have a back story. They’ve been around longer than five minutes and will have done and seen a lot of things. Yes, we get it your character is a real person with all the associated memories and experiences and funny anecdotes that come along with being human. I’m sure even some of them are relevant to the story…but, and I can’t stress this strongly enough, DON’T put the entire bloody back story in the opening chapter!!
The whole point of a back story is to add depth to your novel, it may explain why a character acts they way they do, or how they got to a certain point in their life but that doesn’t mean it has to be piled on within the first chapter. It should be sprinkled liberally every now and again or offered in a small compact way that doesn’t overshadow the main story.
Another major problem with having a back story to explain parts of the novel is that it can be very hard to bring it into play. If a character remembers a key detail just before it becomes relevant in the plot then it will feel forced and, well to be frank, cheesy as hell! Which I’m presuming is a pretty cheesy place.
Personally I prefer it when back stories run parallel to the side of the main story, and it is not until the end we realise the full ramifications of both stories. Obviously this doesn’t work all the time and there are a few books I can think of where I’ve wanted to skip the recollections and stick to the main plot, but it can be a very useful tool.
Just remember that back story is a tool to help improve a novel, it’s not an essential part of a book and characters can be just as strong and believable without having to delve into their past to show how troubled they were and how well they’ve done to overcome it all…against all odds blah, blah, blah.
For those that use back story well – well done! I think when done correctly it can really add depth to a novel. For those who are unsure – skip it! Or learn how to use the tool properly before wedging it into your novel.
‘C’ you tomorrow! Ha! ‘C’ what I did there??