From The House in the High Wood, by Jeffrey E. Barlough, comes an example of how not to present back story:
“Mr. Langely,” said Mark turning to his guest, “I invited you to pass the summer here so you might pursue your translation of the works of an obscure and largely worthless poet of old Rome, not to make an analysis of some morbid condition you suspect in your host. You’re wholly unqualified for the latter task, I assure you. I suppose next you’ll be diagnosing brain fever and prescribing laudanum. How much more simply can I put it to you? I am not a man of many friends. I’m not the sort for it. I’m the sort who’s jolly better off without them, leastways those of the human variety.”
His guest discharged a laugh. “Dear old Mark, I see it still isn’t hard to get your goat. And it’s early days yet! Of course I was most pleased to receive your kind offer, which was all unlooked for and which I accepted at once. It’s astonishing to consider that this is my first visit ever to Dalroyd, and your delightful village at the lakeshore. All those years together in Salthead and never once did an invitation come my way, though you yourself made several calls on us at Crow’s-end, as I’m sure you’ll remember. I admit it’s a mystery now what has triggered this sudden burst of magnanimity.”
“It’s all rather simple, as you very well know, sir. I received some badgering correspondance in the post from one Mr. Oliver Langley of Bucket’s Court, Highmarket, Crow’s-end. This gentleman wrote me a series of lengthy, tiresome letters describing his current literary endeavor, relating how disagreeable it was to peg away at it in that busy city…”
And so it goes. Word to the wise. Do not engage in dialogue in which each character prefaces his next statement to the other with, “As you very well know, Mr. Langley…”
Also, do not engage in this form of dialogue (which I quote from the ‘Ante Scriptum’):
“What happened here?” Even to my own ears I had begun to sound like a busybody, from asking so many questions. “I’m very much deceived if this was not once a thriving community, despite its present lorn appearance. The situation is rather pleasant and romantic, if isolated, and there is ample space for agriculture and of course no shortage of lumber. Shilston Upcot. Lonewater. Where is it I’ve heard of them before? Some contretemps there was, no doubt of that, but I can’t recollect it.”
As one of the blurbs on the back of the book promises, The House in the High Wood promises to dwell comfortably in the confluence of Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft’s style. Neither of them were noted for their dialogue, and Lovecraft could at times achieve startling purple passages as he waxed on and on in his almost inimitable style. Thus despite the clunkers quoted above, I’m in no way dissuaded from carrying on. However, Mr. Barlough is going to have to step up his game if he’s to rescue his novel from becoming mere Victorian pastiche.