This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘info dump’

The Secrets to Backstory in Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 30, 2010 at 6:20 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

For a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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Backstory is narrative that hints at or describes a character’s past. Often it presents itself in long-winded passages known as an info dump. It’s improper use conflicts with a number of the “rules” writers are supposed to follow including, providing too much information, too much information too soon, it shows rather than tells and worst of all, does not hold your reader’s interest.

Possibly the most common mistake writers make relative to backstory is to include too much too soon in their novels.

Another issue with backstory is writers think their readers need this information. Yet, more often than not, they require much less than you give them. The truth about backstory? Most of it is forgotten or ignored.

Everyone in the industry knows good writing is alive, it’s exciting and vibrant. Therefore, the most interesting writing is usually in the now, it’s immediate in its presentation. Backstory is not in the now by its very nature. That fact alone tells us to limit the backstory in our novels.

The secret to backstory is to introduce it in miniscule amounts and only as necessary. Let it loose when your reader needs to know about it and then drip it into your novel rather than pour it. Offering your reader pieces of information is much more effective than info dumps.

Think of backstory as morsels of your character’s prior life rather than meals of data about them. Offer your reader a taste of what they need to know and allow their imagination to fill in the rest of the picture.

Now for some tips as to how to infiltrate backstory into your novel.

Introduce backstory only after you’ve secured your reader’s interest in the story and in the character. Write about the action first.

Incorporate backstory when the specific character is the focus on your narrative. This, I think, is self-explanatory.

Convey backstory as soon as it’s needed, but only when its needed. That is, incorporate it just before the reader needs to know it. For example, if your character is a murderer, your reader might not need to know what draws him to this explosive mode of expression until after he kills his first victim, and maybe even later.

You may wish to use flashbacks to introduce large amounts of backstory. As your story moves along, you can write a single flashback chapter, then return to your storyline in the following chapter. Be cautious however, for flashbacks are tricky things to master and many readers, agents and editors don’t care for them.

You might introduce a dream to outline the needed backstory. Again, this is another tricky technique and is overused, so take care.

You can divulge family secrets to bring out backstory. Secrets are always exciting, so they have a better chance to keep from losing your reader’s interest.

Memories are another tool to consider. Often this comes out in dialogue or a character’s thoughts.

Regardless how you introduce your necessary backstory, keep in mind that it’s mystery that hooks your reader. Don’t tell them too much or they’ll have no reason to learn more about your characters.

Don’t be concerned if this technique takes a while to learn. It does for most writers. Just keep an eye open for excessive backstory then cut or disperse it wherever and whenever you can. You’ll do well with a little practice.

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


10 Tips to Reveal Your Character’s Character

In The Craft of Writing on March 3, 2010 at 7:18 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to the podcast of this article HERE.

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One of the three primary secrets to any good novel is effective characterization. The others, of course, are story and dialogue. Without populating your novel with characters the reader will appreciate, there is little chance your novel will succeed. This is not to say a great deal more isn’t necessary to write The Great American Novel, but without this, you’ve got no story.

Your reader needs to become acquainted with your main characters to identify with them and I’ve worked up a list of ten basic steps by which you develop your character’s. They are:

1. The character’s physical description
2. The author’s psychological portrayal of that character
3. What the character says
4. How the character says what he says
5. What the character does
6. What the character thinks
7. The things other characters say about him
8. His reactions to things, people and events around him
9. His how he reacts to himself
10. Your setting

Presenting this type of information all at once is frowned upon in the writing world. So much so, that action has a rather unpleasant sounding name assigned to it. That name is, “Info-dump.” Therefore, for best effect, you’d want to sprinkle these situation around in the pages of your story.

I’m certain you can see how most of these techniques will highlight your character’s personality. After all, isn’t that much the way things work in real life? Regardless, let’s toss in a couple of examples

You’d not want to use only one or two of these techniques and shun the rest. Utilize a number of them for wider appeal

A premier “rule” in creative writing it to “show, don’t tell.” Of course, rules are designed for breaking, but with that in mind, you’d want to shy away from the first item, their physical description, and the second, the authors’ psychological portrayal, as they tend to, “tell.”

As an example of the third item, what he says, in my current manuscript my hero, Jak, is working with a crew to cut down trees. When one wood behemoth refuses to fall, Jak say, “I’ve yet to be bested by an overgrown log.” When I had my critique group read that chapter, a couple of the reviewers mentioned that line and said it told them so much about Jak’s personality. So, the words your character uses are powerful indicators of his individuality.

Let’s give number seven, those things one character says about another, some consideration, too. I think this type of character embellishment allows for interesting opportunities in your novel. It opens the door to misdirection, deception and all sorts and other opportunities to enhance and even introduce plot points into your manuscript. If you possess the imagination, this technique has twists and turns hidden within it, and you can utilize them to great effect.

There’s one of these techniques many authors don’t understand well, so I’ll give it a bit of special attention. Consider number ten, your setting. Setting is much more to your novel than simply a place and time. It is as powerful as any component of your novel and can shape your characters to a great degree. So, too, it gives strong hints as to their personalities. For example, compare a warrior living in the second century to one living in the twenty-first. Don’t you think they’ll have differing outlooks toward war, even though that theme transcends both time frames? Give your setting serious consideration as part of the development of your characters. You can read more about setting in this ARTICLE.

Review these techniques and employ them throughout your novels, and you’ll find your readers become more involved with your characters.

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”