Let me get this out of the way: go and read Jeffrey Eugenides, especially if you are a writer. I will be the first to admit that I hated The Virgin Suicides, but that was a first novel and I will forgive him for it. If you love that book, I am sorry. I began Middlesex last night and my admiration is off the charts.
He does something that anyone who wants to be a good writer should try to emulate. He weaves personal history seamlessly into scenes. (If you’re particularly interested, Philip Roth is also amazing at this and I highly recommend reading his work.) This is something that you should be doing for multiple reasons.
It is important for the reader to know the history of your characters in order to better interpret their actions, but, and this is a big but, it is not fun to read a big block of text about a character’s past and then read a big block of text about their present. It should feel more natural not only for the reader to read, but to the writer to mention (as their character picks up a coffee mug) that in the seventh grade he or she kissed a girl for the first time while painting coffee mugs in art class.
If you are writing to a word count (as I always am, including now. Send help.) it is particularly helpful to write in this fashion. Why? Not because including back story chews up more words. You thought I was going to say that didn’t you? It is because it keeps you from stopping too often. It flows more naturally and prevents blocks from happening. It is better for everyone involved.
And now, I must return to writing. I should probably follow my own advice and not stop so much. How is your writing going? Let me know in comments or on Twitter @shutupcabbage! As always, happy writing.