Sunday, July 24, 2011

Letting the Past Go: A Lesson in Writing & Life

Every writer knows excessive backstory slows down a plot.

Yet, sometimes I desire my readers to understand my characters' history. To relish in their yesterdays. So, I write out their pasts in great detail, slowing down the present scene.

And this urge to explain seeps into my personal life as well.

For, maybe if I told you about my profound fear of breaking a bone, you'd appreciate why I never learned to skate in Canada. And maybe if you knew I was bullied in kindergarten, you'd comprehend why I was unkind in middle school. Perhaps if I recounted my should-have-could-have-would-have's, or took you down my what-if's, you'd forgive my excuses for not doing this or that.

So, I cling to my past like a comfortable pair of pajamas, and in doing so, I miss my present part in God's epic story {and lull you to sleep}.

But, every writer knows a riveting story moves forward. A strong character learns and grows from her mistakes and develops over time.

Rene Browne and Dave King in their book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers say, "...if you find your story too heavily burdened with the past, consider letting some of the past go."

Ah, great wisdom for writing and life, no?

I need to cut back-story in my life like I do my fiction. I don't need to define my limitations. I don't need to hide behind past failures or regrets. I can let the past rest at the foot of the cross, in the "sweet embrace of Christ." (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest) And by God's grace, I can move forward.

My past may shape tomorrow, but when I choose to let it go, it won't impede tomorrow. Oswald Chambers writes, "God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future." (My Utmost for His Highest)

The truth is when I let God, the master writer, transform my past {cut my backstory}, when I see each new chapter, plot twist, and conflict as an opportunity to grow {not gripe or reminisce}, my story develops beyond my wildest imagination.

When I let my past go, God pens one exhilarating storyline.

Do you struggle with cutting back-story in your fiction and life?

Melanie N. Brasher is a full time mama of two boys and wife to an incredible husband who understands her bicultural background. She moonlights as a fiction and freelance writer, crafting stories and articles toward justice and change, and contemplates faith, family, and writing at her personal blog. Though she’s an aspiring author, she’ll never quit her day job.


  1. Sorry I'm reading this a week later (just started a full time job lol). Great advice :) Work through your past, learn what you can, then move on. That's my motto.

  2. Morgan, that's a great motto! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)