Are my characters digging latrines?

Once I was reading a book where, after a chapter or two, the characters were forced to go on the run from some evil thing. The intensity of the chase was high, they were constantly on the move, separated from their defenders without a friendly soul to ask for help. However, during this bit of story, the writer went into what I considered a lot of unnecessary detail about what they were up to during this chase. I can’t remember exactly what the scene was, but it put me in mind of reading, in some detail, about how the characters were digging latrines along the way. It was as if the author had to account for all of their various actions and bodily functions. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t really how it went, but it felt that way. The small section of the book covered by this turned me off of the whole story. Loads of people loved this story, so maybe it’s just me, but I’ve read other stories with seemingly similar chase situations and liked them just fine. Either way, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about what it was that I didn’t like, you know to avoid it for myself. In the end I came to the conclusion what I really didn’t like was the pacing. The intensity of the action seemed completely at odds with the pace of the writing. Perhaps the author achieved what he set out to do, but I didn’t like it.

Back to my project: I’ve buttoned up a section of sub-plot, at least for the moment, and I’m back to the main character again. Before launching into that sub-plot, with a secondary character, I left the main character sitting in the middle of the woods. Now, I’m asking myself about pacing and action. I’m well over half-way into the book, and the main character is still lolly-gagging in the forest. I feel like at this point there should be some rising action or pressing problem bearing down on the him, and I even worked an additional, short chapter in to try and get there, yet it still feels flat. Things will pick back up as the chapter progresses, but I don’t want the beginning of it to seem boring or pointless. I guess the rubber-duck question of the day is: At what point does detail become latrine digging? The rubber duck’s answer for now: The main plot isn’t going to change for the details I’m working on and I’m already going to have to revise it to suck less later anyhow, so keep going and don’t get hung up on this.

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Is there such a thing as too much back story?

I’m not really talking so much about the synopsis of a character you might do to place them in the events of story, give them at least the thinnest thumbnail of personality and motivation. I’m talking more about an in-depth sort of back story, more like chapters that won’t ever be used. You know they won’t but write them anyhow. I’m not sure there can be too much back-story, except that it seems like you might run the risk of losing focus. I certainly get side-tracked. A couple months ago, I got writers block pretty bad, and instead of trying to figure out why I got stuck, I spent about a week and a half developing verb conjugations for three dialects of one of my constructed languages. (See, there I went). Anyhow, I suppose many writers would write these in-depth histories as standard practice, I don’t know, it certainly didn’t occur to me as a new writer.

For each of two of my main characters, I’ve got what I would consider a chapter or two of events in their own history which serve to place them in the story for me. I wrote both of these as if I’d intended to put them into the story, with as much attention to setting and action as I might for any draft. In both cases they’re key to the plot of my story, but need to come out slowly to the reader as events unfold. So far, this approach feels good to me, because it helps me understand the character’s motives and place in a way that a few bullet-points or paragraphs in a notebook might not. It makes the events real for me as the writer because they happened. At the moment, I’m working on a similar chapter for a third character who didn’t get the same treatment initially, and I realized not having done that was a mistake even though the character really came alive as soon as she appeared. It left a big hole in the plot, which seemed like a nice thing to have at the time, you know for flexibility, but in filling that hole, the main plot gains credibility and I now have the basis for action that needs to happen in later chapters. When I finish it, I’ll continue revising from where I stopped, and in all likelihood I’ll be writing another of these when I introduce the next character.