In a recent post, Gail Carson Levine discusses how to get background material into a story without the use of a flashback scene,
along with tips for when you do use a flashback.
Weaving in Backstory
Poem. She points out that in her story, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, she uses an epic poem: everyone knows the poem, quotes from it at times, or even perform parts of it.
Newspaper clippings. Levine also points to The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, which uses newspaper clippings to introduce backstory.
Dialogue in a counseling session. Of course, a character could spill the beans during a session with a counselor.
Sometimes, I’ve heard the opinion, though, that these “techniques” are cheats of sorts, ways to work in material that doesn’t really belong. A story should start in one place and pretty much progress linearly. Using backstory is like this picture of tattoos on a woman’s back: for her, there’s no easy way to SEE these tattoos (mirrors, photo, description), it’s unnatural for her to visualize them.
A bold opinion, that backstory is a cheat — there are certainly shades of this.
Do you think backstory techniques like this are effective, or do they feel like cheats? When are they effective? Do you like prologues as a way to introduce backstory? What’s your favorite way to deal with backstory?