"Left to Write: The Information Dump"
Now I know you all love your characters and when you love someone you want to talk about them. You want to tell everyone. After all you spent time creating their backgrounds and giving them quirks and coming up with reasons why they have quirks and why they're with the person they're with and why they hate bologna sandwiches (it really is traumatic) and how they landed their job and their first boyfriend in the sixth grade.
It's great you have that information. It's fantastic. Keep it to yourself.
Well, actually keep it to yourself unless it's absolutely necessary for your story.
Think of it this way, when you meet someone for the first time, do you want to know absolutely everything about them right then and there? In fact if you met someone who told you everything right away you would probably get creeped out and not want to have much more to do with that person. Believe me, it's happened to me, and I'm actually interested in people, but I don't need to know all about your foot bunion, your bad relationship with your son, your idiot of an ex-husband, and how you won your cheerleading trophy. Or actually, I don't want to know all that as soon as I meet you.
And when I meet a couple, the story of their meeting can honestly wait until I've actually known the couple better.
So why do authors feel they have to tell the entire life story of their characters in the first chapter? Or the second? Or at all if it has nothing to do with the story they're telling?
I bet there are lots of couples that you spend time with and you don't know their history. You just accept the fact that they're together.
In order for people to care about these things, they have to have a chance to care about your characters. That takes some time.
If you feel it's important to the story, then by all means tell it, but don't rush it. Wait for the question to form in your readers mind. Don't answer questions that haven't been asked yet.
And it's okay to let your reader wonder about things for awhile.
Do you know who does this well? Watch Lost or the Gilmore Girls. Yes, I know Stephen King would be horrified to hear of a writer tell another writer to watch TV, but TV is written by writers. Either of these shows illustrate how to do back story really well. (While watching Gilmore Girls take notes on dialogue too.)
Here's an exercise for you. Make a copy of your work in progress. (Don't worry I'm not going to tell you to amputate the original). Now get rid of all the back story. All of it. Put it aside for a couple of weeks.
When you go back to it read it over. Did you need the back story? How much of it do you need? If you need it, do you need it in the place you put it? Can it wait a little longer until your reader has a chance to care about it and has questions?
Now I'm not saying you can't have back story in the first chapter. But is it there because it's essential to setting up the story, or is it there because you just have to tell your reader all about your beloved character?
And when you do tell it to us, please don't tell everything at once. Give it in bits and pieces. Create new questions. Give your reader a reason to keep reading.
The Penny Whistle - B.J. Hoff
1 year ago