In one of my first critiques by a professional, I was informed that my novel had too much “fluff”, or empty filling that had nothing to do with the scene, and the backstory was too intrusive. At the time, I wasn’t sure what that really meant, but now it seems so clear; I was filling the story with too much irrelevant information and not enough action. I had explained too much about my main character in the first three pages of the story.
Professionals seem to agree it’s essential to know your characters. I’ve learned to develop past histories and family relationships before I dive into a new story so I have a frame of reference to draw from. But it’s just as importance to introduce the right bit of information at the right time. I eventually understood how to cut the fluff from the novel and spread out the backstory over several chapters.
Although I don’t remember where I first learned the concept of holding back on backstory, I remember being shocked that an author didn’t need to tell everything about the character’s past. If I thought it up, shouldn’t it be in the story? Not necessarily. After awhile, I gained a better understanding, and even cut a couple scenes from the my third Lawmen of Clayton County book that gave too much unnecessary information about Jake’s past. While it was relevant to who Jake had become, it wasn’t relevant to that particular book.