Due to popular demand . . . okay, only Lady Glamis and SJ Duval wanted to know this, but, still, what the people want . . .
Pitfall #1: Don't put extensive backstory in your first pages. This is part of the article 10 Fiction Pitfalls by Sam McCarver in the May 2010 issue of The Writer.
In his words . . .
Writer's sometimes provide extensive backgrounds on characters and situations before really beginning their stories. But long narratives can be dull openings. Instead of backstory, take the reader directly into your story. Show your main character facing a challenge in a scene with other interesting characters. Agents and editors must be intrigued by the main character, know that person's goal, and like the story's direction early - or they won't stick around. A writer may say, "It's slow at first, but wait until page 10 - that's dynamite". Put the dynamite up front.
A backstory might begin, "Harry Black inherited a law firm from his father and built it into one of the largest in Boston", then discuss family, home, etc. Instead, begin with action:
Harry Black jumped to his feet, shouting, "Objection! Not supported by fact." Judge Powell glared at Black, saying, "This courtroom has good acoustics, Counselor. So don't shout, and sit down." he gave Black a wry smile. "By the way, your objection is overruled."
Now the story has begun. (p. 26)
Okay, we all know, or should, that backstory is a no-no. Don't bore the reader with extensive backstory in the beginning. Start with action, drama, something other than all the minute details of the main character that led up to the action/drama.
As for me, I try to intersperse a bit of backstory throughout the first few chapters. A tidbit here, a tidbit there, everywhere a tidbit, but not a long narrative passage telling you all about the main character before anything happens to the main character.
I mean, how much better would The Wizard of Oz have been if it had started with the house falling on the Wicked Witch of the East? I mean, picture it, the house crushes the Wicked Witch of the East, Dorothy steps out into Oz and then, throughout the course of the first chapter or two we learn she had run away from home, a cyclone struck, and now she found herself in a magical land. The backstory - everything that happens before she lands in Oz - really isn't important. Yes, it's needed, but not in a huge narrative . . . well, at least not in my opinion.
How do you handle backstory? Long narrative passages? Brief bits here, there, and everywhere throughout the first chapter(s)? Do you inject backstory at all? Can a book exist without backstory? Can Dorothy crush the Wicked Witch of the West, befriend a Scarecrow, a Tinman, a Cowardly Lion and defeat the Wicked Witch of the West all without backstory? Hmmmm . . .