I'm loosely working on a trilogy. Book One and Two are supposed to contain the main character’s backstory, divided by two parts that will be exposed accordingly: on book One, the first half, on book Two, the remaining part.

I have three "main characters", with one being more in display, as the epicenter of the story, than the other two. So character A, the really main one, has a very long, interesting backstory that will need to be exposed (both to the reader and the other characters eventually) to further the story.

A, B and C grew up together. At some point, A goes missing. Book One starts ten years later, when B and C finally reunite with A. My main probably is, by choosing not to tell the story of their childhood and the subsequent years, how will the readers engage with the reunion, not having any attachments to this characters yet?

My worst problem is: how do I tell, along with book One's story, the background of all the years A has been missing without losing pace of the main story?

My initial idea was to introduce this characters childhood in the prologue, giving the reader something to work with, and just do flashbacks throughout the books, telling what I need to tell. But it doesn't sound very engaging, and the reunion of these characters has no actual payoff because the reader won't be really attached to them to care...

Any advices are welcome :)

3 Answers 3


For me, the key questions are: who is telling the story; when are they telling the story, and why are they telling the story. If I know the answers to those questions, then I can work on what the narrator knows and when they know it.

This narrator is a stand in for the reader. They control what we see and when we see it (and a lot more as well). I think of the narrator as an experienced tour guide, showing me through a space, pointing out things that should be of interest to me. An experienced tour guide does not dump the information about the cathedral in a long speech standing outside of the entrance. Instead, they scatter the information as the tour proceeds through the various parts of the building.

Character A has gone away for ten years. No doubt Character A has led a rich and varied life during that time, but not all of it needs to be presented to the reader and not all at once. For example, the plot requires Character A to behave in a "strange" way. One of the other characters challenges A, wanting to know why. Character A then relates an experience during the lost ten years to explain it. Rinse, repeat. Only those pieces of backstory that directly support the front story should be presented to the reader. If the immediate plot does not require it, do not bring it forward.

What I think that you need to do is to decide what the story is about, and eliminate or minimize everything that the story is not about. Then show the reader only when you need to. An exception to this rule is the use of foreshadowing. A hint of what is to come to prepare the reader for the anticipated future events.


Get us interested in the characters first.

Your first chapter either needs to be a 'prologue' of sorts - either starting before Character A goes missing, or outlining how Character B and Character C meet up with Character A again, so that we feel their engagement in the reunion. We don't need to care about Character A or the reunion ourselves at this point. We just need to care that Characters B & C care.

To take a couple of examples: Chapter 1 of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" does not begin with Harry waking up in the cupboard under the stairs, about to "reunite" with his wizarding heritage. Chapter 1 of "The Lord of the Rings" does not start with Frodo marching resolutely off towards Rivendell. Chapter 1 of "Murder on the Orient Express" does not start with a dead body.

So, give us a "hook", build up the characters - either all three directly, or Character A through anecdotes and musings given by Characters B & C as they approach the reunion - and rouse our curiosity to continue.


thanks for reaching out. So. My main concern is that the past events of A's life will directly reflect on the "major" plot. A big death happening in book Two is related to someone A has met in his past, so I'd need to tell that story more detailedly in order for the death to have impact. Another major plot point also comes from A being associated with the bad guys in the story, and while the other characters don't know A has nothing to do with them, I want them readers to suffer with A, you know? Like, the reader also knows that A has nothing to do with the bad guys, but "because reasons", A still gets shamed for it.

For that to happen, the readers will need to know more about A's life than just the average little snippets I could throw here and there.

A's past is the key to major plot points throughout the story, therefore I'd need to tell his story in more detail and light, give the reader perspective and understanding.

Seems to me the best way would be to interchange the "present" story with chapters containing the events from the past...

  • 4
    If this is a response to JonStonecash's answer, it needs to go in the comments beneath his answer. Alternately, if you're clarifying the question, you need to edit those clarifications into your original post. This isn't like a traditional forum where posts just go one after the other; answers are for answering the question and that's it. I hope I'm not coming across as too harsh; it's an easy mistake to make, but the important thing is to learn from it.
    – F1Krazy
    Mar 30, 2020 at 14:33
  • 2
    Please edit your post to make clarifications. You may also use comments for short responses to someone else. While it is allowed to answer your own post, it has to be an actual answer. Thanks.
    – Cyn
    Mar 31, 2020 at 15:01

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