Dealing With All The Junk

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by Suzanne D. Williams

I read a piece of writing advice that has been helpful to me. The writer gave instruction on how to introduce backstory and avoid the dreaded info-dump. In case, you aren’t familiar with this term, an info-dump is exactly what the name suggests—barraging the reader with too much information, or set-up, at once. Suddenly, they don’t know who’s who or what’s happening because you’ve thrown it all at them in one huge lump.

This happens the most in the early chapters. Picture an upside-down pyramid. Chapter 1 oozes with backstory, who he is, where he’s been, how he grew up. But as the story progresses, there’s less and less to tell and the final chapters seem kind of thin. After all, you’ve said it all already. It’s better to be consistent in structure, to create a rectangle or, at least, an oval with the book climax padding things more in the middle.

Some writing advice says it this way. “Filter the details in.” This is what I’m trying to achieve, but what I missed wasin order to filter them in, I must leave them out everywhere else. Plus, HOW I introduce them matters immensely.

As an example:  Perhaps, your character is a princess from a fairytale kingdom, but she has found herself translated into modern New York City. How do you let readers know who she is and all that’s happened to her without paragraphs of endless description?

From a personal writing perspective, most of this problem comes about because I write from the seat-of-my-pants. I often don’t know who she is or what has happened to her until I need an explanation for her behavior. That doesn’t stop me from saying too much and sometimes giving things away.

Circling back to the writing tip, the suggestion the writer made was to not write backstory at all. Leave it out entirely.

“But,” you ask, “how does that help?”

Our example:  Our princess is walking the street, lost, and stumbles into our main male characterInstead of saying, “she felt” (which is telling anyway) horrified, or embarrassed or thrilled, whatever her reaction is, make her response an action. Have her step backward and lift her hands, putting distance between them, for instance. This gives the idea she’s been sheltered somehow and leaves a bit of mystery to figure out.

Perhaps, in a later scene, she has to dress and bathe herself and has no idea how, rather writing than some long-drawn-out commentary on medieval clothing verses modern dress that would frankly bore me to tears, have her fumble with the buttons, maybe fasten things wrong, or get frustrated trying to turn on the water. This way you’ve made it an action again and the readers can draw their own conclusions.

You can also leak in information using dialogue. She would use terms foreign to those around her, ask for servants and not understand why they don’t arrive, or maybe speak to a mental image of her mother at times. It should be subtle and natural to the dialogue and not sound to the reader like, “Oh yeah, let me stick this in here.”

I’ve found by adopting this method the story has a much stronger plot, and I avoid telling sentences almost entirely. (She felt. She knew. She recognized. She saw.)

Applying this idea to my current WIP, I have a man who appears ordinarywalking home from work. He’s complaining about the traffic, his feet, etc. when he encounters a dead body in an alley. Without defining who he is or why he would do such a thing, the character rolls the body over and commands it to come back to life. The once-dead man he’s raised then says, “Grave robber,” and our average guy replies, “Not anymore,” and runs away.

Nowhere, did I explain who he was, why he could do that, or the meaning of it. It’s all action and dialogue, yet already some of the backstory has leaked in. Clearly, something caused this man to stop raising people from the dead.

I love the feel of the story already, the way it focuses on plot and setting and less on filling in the blanks. I’m no longer obligated to explain every last thing about the character. I’m better with scene descriptions because of this method. Since I’m not bothering to say anything from his past, I can use the space to describe the city, the alley, or the dead man.

Most importantly, the more I write this way, the better I am at making my point, and that is invaluable. I’ve stopped taking rabbit trails that lead nowhere and focused the reader’s attention. They get to figure out the backstory without me telling them point-by-point, and that’s a much better way to write.

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The Quarter

Rylie Shepherd’s come home to Richland, Colton Ryder, and a heart full of pain.

About The Author:

Suzanne D. WilliamsBest-selling author, Suzanne D. Williams, is a native Floridian, wife, mother, and photographer. She is the author of both nonfiction and fiction books. She writes devotionals and instructional articles for various blogs. She also does graphic design for self-publishing authors. She is co-founder of THE EDGE.

To learn more about what she’s doing and check out her extensive catalog of stories, visit www.feelgoodromance.com or link with her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/suzannedwilliamsauthor or on Twitter at twitter.com/SDWAuthor

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