Unless you’re the next J R R Tolkien, it’s best not to attempt a huge outpouring of historical backstory at the beginning of your novel. Your readers want a gripping story, not a history lecture.
There are many ways that you can gradually reveal backstory through your novel without having to halt the telling of your story.
- Setting: Bombed buildings hint at a recent war, a flood may have left your characters living upstairs in their houses. Street names, pub names and building names can hint at historical backstory (such as Battle Square, Hangman’s Lane or The Burning Scholar Inn).
- Culture: A town that used to be plagued by dragons may have a policy on killing lizards, a populace that used to be slaves may eat quickly, a town that suffers regular droughts may value water over money.
- Character: A woman who was attacked may be scared to leave home after dark, someone who was criticised as a child may be a perfectionist as an adult. After a long war, a town may be very short on men, and the men that survived may have trouble re-adjusting to life.
- Dialogue: Characters can, of course, talk about the past, but avoid another outpouring of historical information. Hint at things, leave clues, tell half stories; let your reader enjoy piecing everything together.