In the midst of wrestling with backstory in my memoir, God, the Devil, and Divorce, I realized my approach is cinematic. No doubt you've seen movies that begin just before or at the very moment the world changes for the protagonist. That scene fades out and we're shown the events that brought the antagonist
to that beginning moment. If executed right, this happens seamlessly. We don't say to ourselves, "Oh, right. We're getting backstory." We simply accept the switch from present to past, and at some point, back to present.
This is a technique that many memoir writers are trying these days. Cheryl Strayed's Wild is the best example, and I'm not surprised that it translated so well to the big screen. Going through her book, I flagged at least sixteen examples of backstory. Some were little snippets we call "flashbacks" and some were more lengthy. By the time the reader reaches the end of the book, he or she has a good idea of what led Stayed to take her hike and how her journey has helped her to process her history.
Placing backstory into my memoir has been a major challenge. I kept switching segments around, trying to create a coherent flow. One of my questions was about chronological sequence. I wanted to move the story along in the present tense, starting from the opening scene when I'm leaving my beautiful home in Bend for an uncertain future with my husband of twenty-four years. But did I have to tell the backstory chronologically as well?