Give Characters Interesting Anecdotes
If you want readers to know about your character’s past, put it in the form of an anecdote.
Don’t just tell them her parents split up when she was nine, have her remember how they bought her a talking doll before telling her the cat had been run over, a princess outfit before telling her Nana had cancer, and a bike before telling her they were getting a divorce. And now, every time someone gives her a present, she feels like running screaming from the room.
Fact and figures, names and dates don’t mean anything to readers.
Backstory Delayed Gratification
Every story needs some background information. You can’t write down every important thing that happens to a character as it happens. Some of it has to be an event in the past recalled in the present. Backstory is a necessity.
It’s possible to have a backstory that is so fascinating you can start the story with a birth certificate and a list of schools attended, and every date and childhood trauma is of vital importance. But most backstories are not that captivating.
Sometimes it’s just got to be said
In some cases the writer doesn’t care that readers are put off by backstory and exposition. They need to know stuff and the quickest way to tell them, is to just tell them. Sometimes it works for the genre. The lead robber of the bank heist will give the “Let’s go over it one more time…” speech, and it’s kind of expected.
Sci-fi geeks want to know how your teleportation device is supposed to work (so they can scoff at your poor understanding of quantum physics). And if the reader is heavily invested enough they’ll even let slide the ridiculous rules to your made-up sport that makes no sense (150 points for catching a snitch? Really?) .
However, assuming you want to work in your backstory/exposition in a subtle and elegant way, there are a number of techniques available to you.
Let me tell you a joke. Two men walk into a bar. And the barman says, “Welcome to the Trapatonni Bar and Grill, first opened in 1932 by Giuseppe Trapattoni, a squat Sicilian who left his homeland with only the shirt on his back and a dream that one day…”
How much more of Giuseppe’s story would it take before you’d realise the background information had nothing to do with the joke? Not long I’m guessing.
It used to be different.