While I was writing the first and second drafts of my WIP, I was sure I needed to open with a prologue scene that showed my heroine’s childhood. I felt the reader needed this information to empathize with her present situation. But I’ve been learning some rules:
Backstory belongs only where it explains what’s important for the reader to know at that moment. In other words, sparingly and so it doesn’t interrupt the pace of the story.
The longer essential information is withheld, the better. It’s best to reveal backstory before the midpoint. Never insert at the end; your ending will seem contrived.
Don’t repeat backstory information. Readers have good memories.
Backstory can be presented as action. It can be incorporated as dialogue, or revealed through short inner thoughts. Or a combination of these.
If you need a flashback, write it as a blow-by-blow action sequence that ends in disaster for your main character.
I have deleted my opening chapter and the first half of chapter 2. As I edit, I’m watching for repetitious backstory information.
I have three backstory passages. One is part of an action scene. The second is a short, essential nightmare. The third is draft 2’s version of my original prologue. I love this scene—it is where I defined my heroine, but I’m now sure it doesn’t serve the story.