When Characters Force Their Backstory

Lately I’ve been picking up books that I seem to put down almost immediately. They might be great books. I might even end up giving them 4 or 5 stars in my tracker if I read them all the way through. But, I’ll never know.

What’s the new thing that’s been stopping me? Characters forcing their backstory (I know. You’re shocked. It’s not like the title gave it away or anything.)

In the last month I’ve picked up books where the main character is telling us “I didn’t have a choice. I had to do XYZ.” I, the reader, have been like “You had to quit your job? Why? You gave us no reason? You had to move back to that small town? Why? If your parents are dead and your inheritance doesn’t matter to you and there’s no binding reason, then you didn’t have to. You decided to.”

Maybe it’s the economy, but the idea of anyone giving up a good job they like in a town the enjoy living in and an apartment with good rent is… ABSOLUTELY LUDICROUS. And I don’t mean the rapper.

I 100000000.7% can not accept that as a reason to move a character to the middle of no where so hijinks can ensue.

It’s cheap writing. I hope if I do it, I’ll catch myself.

But the problem is this: If I don’t believe your first 3 pages, you’ve lost me. Why would I spend the rest of the book trying to believe her (and in her) if I don’t believe her actions or why she made them.

Set up is vital. Don’t let anything in your sample pages give your reader a reason to not hit the buy button.

Yes, we all do impulsive things occasionally. But there is a big difference between an impulsive move (which you still have to justify) and a move that you’re blaming on situations that don’t truly exist in your story.

Remember, the set up is in the sample. It has to be as close to perfect as possible, not just to be good writing but to sell.

If I’m reading your sample, I’m yours to lose at that point. Don’t make me not hit buy.



  1. Only seldomly can I buy into a book with shit characters and I think you hit the nail on the head about samples–they need to pop.

    • I think my goal will be to come up with a book that I had a rough time starting, but … Oh, wait. Thought of one: Something Like Normal by Trish Dollar. I was glad when I looked at Goodreads that a lot of people had a rough time getting into it. But then, it was totally worth the ride.

      • I have gotten used to putting them down now. I come back to books sometimes if I think they have merit, but life’s soooo short. I’ve abandoned a lot of books this year. But I also powered through some really crappy characters for *seemingly* amazingly developed worlds.

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