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The NCG Writing Bug Bites: How to Handle BS (Backstory)

A problem that raises it’s ugly head all the time in my writing groups is BS, backstory. When does it become ‘info-dump,’ or a ‘weather report?’ How much BS do you need?

My answer: you only need to provide the BS (facts) necessary for the reader to understand the current plot. But if you do need BS, is there a better way to deliver it than in a paragraph or pages solely devoted to providing BS?

The following is an excerpt from an unpublished chapter book, sequel to Welcome to Monstrovia. Let’s see how much BS you need to understand the current action and get hooked.


I race to the courtroom with Button flying ahead of me.

Felix A. Squash is at his table when I rush in.  “You’re back? I gave you a chance to avoid an awful squooshing. It’s not too late. The door is right there.” He smiles. “Although I do so love the sound of an opponent being squashed.”

I’m about to answer when the gavel bangs and Bob announces, “Court is in session.”

Felix hisses at me, “Let the squashing of Kara’s case continue.” He lets out an evil laugh.

Judge Ghouly sits down, a huge drink in her hand.

My mouth waters.  I thought there was a water shortage.

“Bob, get me a napkin. I’ve dribbled lemonade down my chin.” Ghouly hammers her gavel on the desk.

A ghostly moan fills the chamber.

“Is that the ghost?” I ask Button.

“She must have been asleep,” Button says. “Kara, the judge is staring at you.”

Judge Ghouly puts down her lemonade. “Now, where were we? Ah, yes, our human ‘non-lawyer’ was going to present her evidence. Bring in the defendant. I want him present to hear me pronounce his sentence.”

I should object that she is ready to sentence the giant before I have a chance to defend him, but Button warned me not to annoy this judge.  She’s already ticked-off enough. I would question the giant, but he’s so upset that I’m afraid he may say the wrong things. I only hope my new evidence works.


How much of this excerpt is Dialogue vs. BS? Try this exercise: Put a D after each bit of dialogue. Put a B after any sentence that is only Backstory. Count the Ds and Bs.  (Now do the same with your chapters. Did you fall into the trap of INFO-DUMPING?

Generally, D (dialogue) is the most effective, least obtrusive, way to weave in BS. When you feel you need more, try implanting it in short ‘bursts’ rather than in paragraphs or pages solely dedicated to providing facts, details and descriptions. Did you need much more BS to understand what was happening in this short scene? Remember, it is only a small part of Chapter 12, so it is way out of context.


Finally, note how Hooks are planted throughout the sample. Go back over the paragraph and place an H at anything that arouses a question in the reader’s mind. What questions are raised in your mind? It is Hooks and not BS that keeps your readers wanting more and more and more.

Next time…


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