blogged before about how tricky it can be to get in the back story without boring your readers. So, I was watching Cars with my two-year-old (an almost daily occurrence), and I noticed how skillfully they slip in the necessary back story with the sports commentators. We get all the information we need about the cars, the race, Dinoco, etc, complete with flashy pictures and sound effects, in a way that feels completely natural because we see that sort of thing at the beginning of nearly every sporting event on TV. It's brilliant really.
You have to hand it to those folks at Pixar. They are amazing storytellers. Their other movies have great back story too. Like in UP, in a sort of silent movie, they sum up Karl and Ellie's entire life together without a single word. There's a TV commercial in Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo has a terrific little prologue that immediately sets up a such a sweet relationship between Marlin and his wife that when it's taken away, we are just as heartbroken as he is, and understand at once why he's such an overprotective father.
Of course, movies have an inherent advantage in being able to show the back story without telling. It can be much trickier with books. In the Mistborn trilogy, Brandon Sanderson uses chapter headings in a way that is absolutely genius. With little snippets of journal entries, he reveals the necessary back story and also creates tension in the actual story. It's perfect.
Terry Ervin uses chapter headings in a similar way in his novel, Flank Hawk. At the start of each chapter, he puts a scene from the distant past, revealing what happened to make the world the way it is in the present day of the story. As the action builds in the novel, the action builds in the chapter headings too, until they come together for the climax of the novel. He could have put all those chapter headings together into a prologue, but that wouldn't have worked nearly as well as the way he's done it. It's very impressive.
Do you have any examples of back story well-done? What's your favorite way to handle it in your own stories?