Backstory presents a challenge to a lot of writers. Not the writing of it. We’re pretty good at that. We can dream up plenty of history about the guy down the street who likes to wear pink, patent leather go-go boots to water his azaleas. Trouble is, some writers don’t know when to stop, or where and how to work it into the story.
There are no hard and fast rules about backstory; like most things in writing, it depends. Readers need to know enough to become invested in the story, but not so much that they get distracted from the action. Some genres need more than others. If you build worlds from scratch, you probably need to provide more explanation than those of us who set their stories on Earth as we know it. You may need to tell the reader that there are two suns, six moons, and seven species of sentient beings on your fictional planet because the rest of the universe exploded, leaving only these survivors, who all speak different languages and would hate each other even if they could communicate. Readers of fantasy and science fiction probably expect a certain amount of backstory.
I am in the throes of planning my next novel and having so much fun with it. I love the planning stage. Who am I kidding? I love every stage!! But there is something very cool about starting with a blank slate and filling in all the spaces.
I have been working on character profiling this week and as I delve deeper into who these characters really are, my story is getting shaped and formed into something much stronger than my original idea. Scenes are being added and changed as I discover what these characters are like beneath the surface.
We writers are known for killing off characters in creative ways. Wood chippers are a favorite method. (Oh, I’m the only one who does that? Uh…never mind. I’ll just…move that thing back into the garage.) Yet the writing adage “murder your darlings” did not originally refer to killing characters but cutting out unnecessary words. While William Faulkner and Elmore Leonard have been credited with it, the original quote is attributed to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who wrote:
“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” Continue reading “On Murdering Your Darlings”
Ladies and Gentlemen, if it pleases the court, allow me to say a few words on behalf of the condemned – the much maligned and detested “Infodump.” Just a few final words before “Dumpy,” as he is known among friends, is marched off to his execution by firing squad.
First, I’d like to repeat the assertion that what we have here may in part be a case of mistaken identity. It was not so long ago that “infodump” was a very specific term, meaning only the particular type of exposition where two or more characters are telling each other stuff that they should already know. It was most common in play- and screenwriting, and actually is pretty much how Anton Chekov starts all his plays, The Cherry Orchard included. Though nobody bats an eye when Lyuba is walking toward the door and Lopakhin tells Dunyasha, who have both known Lyuba their whole lives: “She’s lived abroad for five years…She’s a fine woman. Easy, straightforward.” Continue reading “Ed’s Casual Friday: In Defense of Infodumping”