One Writer’s Journey

June 26, 2015

Backstory: How to Avoid the Info Dump

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am

TangerineOne of the trickiest things to do when writing a middle grade or young adult novel is work in the backstory.  The problem for most writers is that they want to tell too much too soon.  And that makes sense.  After all, they’ve spent so much time in developing their character and creating a compelling past that they want to share it.  All.  Right now.

Unfortunately the most common ways to do this are through long flashbacks or lengthy blocks of dialogue.  Zzzzzzz.

Oh, did I nod off?  It’s just that nothing was happening so I just closed my eyes for a moment.  When writers slow their stories down too much when delivering blocks of backstory, they can easily lose their readers.

The key is to dole the backstory out in dribs and drabs.  When the main character refuses to attend prom, she can tell a pushy classmate that she refuses to repeat last year’s fiasco.  An eighteen year-old character with a car in the garage, might sit behind the wheel while morning a lost driver’s license.  And then the story moves on.

What?  The readers are going to want to know more?  Quite likely but they will also keep reading so that they can find out more.

One book that does this extremely well is Tangerine by Edward Bloor.  The main character, Paul, is almost legally blind.  He struggles in the shadow of his hero brother.  Little by little, Bloor reveals to the reader what happened to Paul’s eye sight.  He manages to do this just a bit at a time because Paul doesn’t remember what happened. He blanked it out.  Another way to do this is to tell the story from the point of view of a character who is new to the area and doesn’t know what happened at prom last year or to a particular person.

Although the author needs to know what happened, the reader may not need to know or may not need to know everything at once.  Bit by bit.  That’s the best way to deliver backstory.



1 Comment »

  1. […] info dump.  Yada, yada, yada.  In fact, I’ve written two posts about the infodump problem, here and here.  And there’s a good reason for these warnings.  Too much backstory is like an […]

    Pingback by Backstory: Not a Dirty Word | One Writer's Journey — January 8, 2016 @ 1:07 am | Reply

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