So I was thinking about this piece of backstory, and as I followed it through logically, popping around to check with the different characters involved in it to make sure they were behaving reasonably, I saw that this three-year-old (in story time) event is still very immediate and raw for the MC, and drives him even more than I thought it did.
To me, that says it needs to come into the story somehow. When I just knew the basic idea of this backstory, I covered it in a paragraph or two of narration stuck into the middle of something else. Now I think maybe it needs to come out in this Saharan section as dialog between the MC and the main secondary character, with paragraphs of internal thought by the MC where he adds painful details and thoughts that he wouldn't say out loud. I think this might also lead the secondary character to reveal something of himself, and that the MC is likely to get mad at him.
I looked at an article on flashback-writing, and one of the tips was to always place a flashback after a strong scene. Of course I can immediately think of ten million reasons and situations* where it would be the kiss of death to put a flashback right after a strong scene, but aside from that, it's an interesting idea and something to keep in mind.
I need to approach this backstory/flashback issue very mindfully, or it will get the better of me. I also need to remember: this isn't just about the emotional story; I can use these suckers to pull the reader along by dropping hints but not explaining something till I'm good and ready.
So maybe, in deciding how to handle each piece of backstory/flashback, some things to consider would be:
- It is just something the reader needs to know in order not to be confused?
- Does it inform and deepen the story?
- Does it establish an important emotional point for the reader?
- Can it provoke conflict, if divulged in dialog, in scene?
- Will hearing about it drive other characters to act, react, or change?
- Is there something about it that the main character isn't ready to face till later in the book?
*okay, maybe not that many.