I read two books recently. In Book 1, I felt connected to the characters. I believed their stories. I believed their relationships. In Book 2, the characters and their relationships felt like cardboard cutouts with no real depth. It was disappointing because this story could have been really great. I wanted it to be really great. In trying to figure out the difference between these two books, I decided it had to do with backstory and, linked to that, the rule that gets pounded into our writerly brains: show, don't tell.
In Book 1 the author shared, in little bits over several chapters, incidents from the two characters' pasts. This helped to SHOW the depth of their relationship, and it was easy to believe that they were best friends. In Book 2 I was told, "They were my best friends," or "I'd developed a crush on him recently," but I wasn't SHOWN anything to back this up. WHY would they be best friends, and WHY would she have a crush on him? I wanted to know a little about their history in order to come to these conclusions myself, instead of just being told.
So. This stuff they tell us to do? Like dropping bits of backstory here and there (not leaving it out, and not burying the reader under one ginormous infodump in chapter 1) and showing, not telling? It makes a difference! And you can very clearly see it when you read a good book and a not-so-good book back-to-back...
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