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back story/ info dumping (1 Viewer)

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KeganThompson

Staff member
Board Moderator
So when I first started writing again, I realized after a while how much I was info dumping/ writing things that didn't matter to the story. I'm good at overthinking so I tend think oh well the reader needs to know the context of everything. no...they don't
I noticed I was kind of doing it again with a new project I'm working on. It wasn't too bad, I stopped and changed some things to have better flow and context without going on a tangent. I struggle with craftily inserting context/ back story and making the story flow. I spent forever rearranging/ changing sentences/ scenes. I moved the backstory scene to be the start ...then it time skips. I don't know. Its a small scene but if I'm being honest I'd like to make it a bit longer. A prologue is a thing but i'd rather not. lol
Got tips (or struggles) for slowly weaving in backstory/not making it info dumpy
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Whatever is in the info needs to be relevant in some way to what's taking place now, so, in that regard, where you put those snippets will be dictated by what you're trying to express in the story at any given moment. There wouldn't be any point in showing Yarrod's mother caring for him if it wasn't related to the red handkerchief, which in turn gives you the reason he's always held onto it and the reason he would chase it. The memory justifies his reaction and gives the handkerchief context. It's the same with mentioning Fiddlesticks knife is made of Gildrin steal and what it does. That information feeds into a later scene and gives what we see there some 'semblance' of consistency. It answers a question I would imagine readers would ask. Being specific is important and some little snippets add to the overall feel of the world and character. They make him/her feel as if they've had a life beyond what is being read, so you can get away with a few pieces of info that don't necessarily have anything to do with the here and now. But at the end of the day, they do serve a function in that they build out the character in some way, and therefore can also be planted carefully when context calls for it. You've just got to guide the story carefully so those opportunities emerge naturally ... otherwise they DO feel like info dumps.
 

KeganThompson

Staff member
Board Moderator
Whatever is in the info needs to be relevant in some way to what's taking place now, so, in that regard, where you put those snippets will be dictated by what you're trying to express in the story at any given moment. There wouldn't be any point in showing Yarrod's mother caring for him if it wasn't related to the red handkerchief, which in turn gives you the reason he's always held onto it and the reason he would chase it. The memory justifies his reaction and gives the handkerchief context. It's the same with mentioning Fiddlesticks knife is made of Gildrin steal and what it does. That information feeds into a later scene and gives what we see there some 'semblance' of consistency. It answers a question I would imagine readers would ask. Being specific is important and some little snippets add to the overall feel of the world and character. They make him/her feel as if they've had a life beyond what is being read, so you can get away with a few pieces of info that don't necessarily have anything to do with the here and now. But at the end of the day, they do serve a function in that they build out the character in some way, and therefore can also be planted carefully when context calls for it. You've just got to guide the story carefully so those opportunities emerge naturally ... otherwise they DO feel like info dumps.
I think my issues is when to do it, I pants/discovery write but I also I have plenty of info in my brain that needs to be put on the page eventually. I don't want to tell too much right away, so its knowing the right time and how much to reveal is what i've been struggling with.
The backstory is important and relevant, so i'm not worried so much about that. I went on a tangent that disrupted the flow and I didn't like what I wrote so I changed/ got rid of it. I originally had the backstory start on the 3rd page but then I moved it to the very beginning. not sure if it works better or not. Maybe i'm overthinking it.
i'm not quite happy with what I got so far...don't know if its best to just leave it for now and continue on with the story or mess with it until I feel more comfortable then move on

The last story I posted in the workshop (the ghost story) that one killed me with how/when i was going to insert information/adding new scenes. I didn't reveal hardly anything until I got toward the middle. I was going with a slower burn/ pacing at the beginning but kinda made the beginning seem a bit "aimless"... as long as I pulled everything together i guess it works 🤷‍♀️
its amazing how hard one can work just to reach mediocrity🌠
I want the first act to be done by next Thursday, then do some edits before I start lookin for trouble on here 😆
i'll keep chippin away...
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I think my issues is when to do it, I pants/discovery write but I also I have plenty of info in my brain that needs to be put on the page eventually. I don't want to tell too much right away, so its knowing the right time and how much to reveal is what i've been struggling with.
The backstory is important and relevant, so i'm not worried so much about that. I went on a tangent that disrupted the flow and I didn't like what I wrote so I changed/ got rid of it. I originally had the backstory start on the 3rd page but then I moved it to the very beginning. not sure if it works better or not. Maybe i'm overthinking it.
i'm not quite happy with what I got so far...don't know if its best to just leave it for now and continue on with the story or mess with it until I feel more comfortable then move on

The last story I posted in the workshop (the ghost story) that one killed me with how/when i was going to insert information/adding new scenes. I didn't reveal hardly anything until I got toward the middle. I was going with a slower burn/ pacing at the beginning but kinda made the beginning seem a bit "aimless"... as long as I pulled everything together i guess it works 🤷‍♀️
its amazing how hard one can work just to reach mediocrity🌠
I want the first act to be done by next Thursday, then do some edits before I start lookin for trouble on here 😆
i'll keep chippin away...
If an opportunity doesn't automatically open up then you have to manufacture one. That may mean changing the scene slightly so it eventually leads to that opportunity. If Yarrod hadn't passed out and didn't offer me the perfect opportunity for a little flashback there, I'd probably go back and adjust the scene where he takes the handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his brow. In order to smooth into it, I'd rewrite a few sentences prior to that showing how he's feeling faint and dizzy, and then, once I'd inserted the image, I'd rewrite the scene of him putting it back in his pocket, once again adjusting for the dizziness.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
You can write the backstory, and all you want to. When you go into revision it's easier to decide which to keep, which to take out, and which to abridge or move around. It's not important to decide until that time, and you may not be able to make the best decision until that time. It's very possible to make a story TOO lean without enough background, which can leave the reader confused regarding what the story is about.

In writing first person, the MC segueing into reminiscence seems more common and better accepted than for a 3rd person narrator. Sometimes you can find creative ways to weave it into dialogue so you get your info in, but it doesn't seem like backstory.

There is one thing that trumps ALL content advice. If it's fun to read, it can stay. We're in this avocation to tell interesting stories, and not every interesting story has to be the current action. My favorite author, in one of his better regarded books, starts out with an entire chapter which contains very little but backstory. That backstory is interesting, amusing, and provocative, so it works.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
So when I first started writing again, I realized after a while how much I was info dumping/ writing things that didn't matter to the story. I'm good at overthinking so I tend think oh well the reader needs to know the context of everything. no...they don't

I struggle with craftily inserting context/ back story and making the story flow. I spent forever rearranging/ changing sentences/ scenes. I moved the backstory scene to be the start ...then it time skips. I don't know. Its a small scene but if I'm being honest I'd like to make it a bit longer.
Got tips (or struggles) for slowly weaving in backstory/not making it info dumpy
For me, the first thing I watch for is what I call “The Rise of the Hads” :) That’s where, soon after some snappy, evocative intro, the writing whips suddenly and extensively into a more prosaic past, away from that atmospheric opener. It’s characterised by the use of the word ‘had’ in a large number of the clauses, looming over the text like Martian war machinery.

I do it myself and have to force myself to lift and shift those hads (and the data they impart) into a sexier, voicier place. When would it be exciting to reveal some of that info with sparkle rather than demanding the reader trudge through it in one go? What will be the vehicle to do it? Straight “XYZ had been the case back then”, or something a little more fun.

Hope this makes sense. It’s 5AM-writers-club time where I am :)
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
You still writing in first-person? If so, you've probably got more options than third allows.

Something to keep in mind: on your first run, write everything in. If it's clunky, at least it's thorough - and when editing, the removal of chunks of exposition is often easier than trying to slide backstory in between the parts of the story that already work.

As for the how, one trick I've seen used to good effect is using paragraph breaks to pass on backstory without derailing the story. Nothing's so distracting as a narrative that suddenly derails and breaks momentum to delve into past details. Which isn't to say it can't be done, just that you have to think around the story moreso than inside it.

For instance...

You have two characters with something of a shared history who are sitting in a small restaurant eating lunch. Their history, while relevant, probably isn't something they're going to discuss. Doing so would constitute an example of ineptly expository dialogue... something probably better left for television writers.

So your characters are sitting at their table, either eating lunch or waiting on their food. Character One is talking about how the new boss is terrible, the workplace environment is becoming unbearable, and they're fast running up to their breaking point. They can't take it anymore. They're either going to quit or kill the new boss, and just then they aren't particular which way the wind's blowing.

Now...you could try to put details and backstory in between the lines and risk distracting from the exchange, but that's not what you want to do. Your reader needs to understand that these two are in this predicament together and any resolution will require the participation of both. It's up to you to get across the how/why of what put these two together in the past and why they're putting their heads together now.

Let's put this paragraph break theory into action, albeit in a stripped-down form.

(The characters are eating and idly complaining. After a few minutes, Character One goes to get a refill/use the restroom/whatever. C1 stands and drops a napkin on the table and slowly shakes their head)

"Yeah, the boss is an asshole. But we've dealt with those before."

C1 departs, however briefly. But before they go, they allow a smile that C2 recognizes as a harbinger of things getting wildly out of hand.

C2 thinks: I knew that smile. Echoes of Camp Crappywriter.


At this point your dialogue hits a natural pause. You could use this to drop some exposition. Or you could cut it hard right there and jump to a new paragraph and explain the smile, a little about C1's personality, and how this happened against the backdrop of Camp Crappywriter.

New paragraph, in retrospective:

Camp Crappywriter. Summer 1990. The year the we drained the lake, exploded the dining hall, and got permanently banned from public recitations of poetry...

C2 can relate this as an kind of self-contained mini-story within the larger narrative. Incidentally, this is easier to swing in first-person; you the MC are the camera, and odd changes in focus are an expected part of the format. Bear in mind that this mini-story will need to hold up on its own. You need an anecdote rather than an infodump.

Having told the story, C1 returns to the table and the meal resumes. The two characters continue to talk in the present day, though now the reader has an additional subtext: there's a problem, and it's not out of the realm of the possible that any solution may involve the destruction of marine environments, explosives, or public indecency.

You've also sidestepped the issues inherent in trying to stuff fifteen pounds of story into a five-pound scene. Things have a chance to breathe in the middle. The lunch conversation isn't weighed down by extraneous detail or whiplashing between past/present. In effect, the narrator has taken the reader aside momentarily to get them caught up without putting the other characters on hold.

Not a cure-all by stretch of the imagination, but it can be effective when judiciously applied.
 

KeganThompson

Staff member
Board Moderator
You can write the backstory, and all you want to. When you go into revision it's easier to decide which to keep, which to take out, and which to abridge or move around. It's not important to decide until that time, and you may not be able to make the best decision until that time. It's very possible to make a story TOO lean without enough background, which can leave the reader confused regarding what the story is about.
Yeah, I have issues with trusting myself. I went off the wall with my last attempt. Pacing is key and is hard to achieve. Honestly, I'd rather have my first draft be leaner and add 15 pounds in the right places than work off the extra weight. I plan to make this a novella, (around 30,000 words) focusing on the core ideas and see how it goes. And If I need to/ want to fill in some things at least I have a "completed" story to work with.
In writing first person, the MC segueing into reminiscence seems more common and better accepted than for a 3rd person narrator. Sometimes you can find creative ways to weave it into dialogue so you get your info in, but it doesn't seem like backstory.
Yeah I plan to do some of that, I like writing dialogue, and apparently (so I have been told) it's one of my strengths. Considering I like to write about characters and their relationships with others, i'd hope so lol.
There is one thing that trumps ALL content advice. If it's fun to read, it can stay. We're in this avocation to tell interesting stories, and not every interesting story has to be the current action. My favorite author, in one of his better regarded books, starts out with an entire chapter which contains very little but backstory. That backstory is interesting, amusing, and provocative, so it works.
Yeah, I probably need to quit worrying so much and have fun. Still working on my "perfection" syndrome. 😝
 

KeganThompson

Staff member
Board Moderator
You still writing in first-person? If so, you've probably got more options than third allows.
Forever and always. lol...maybe one day I will write a short in the 3rd but for now I it is
Something to keep in mind: on your first run, write everything in. If it's clunky, at least it's thorough - and when editing, the removal of chunks of exposition is often easier than trying to slide backstory in between the parts of the story that already work.
Yes/ and no. Might depend on how much was info dumped and where. It can be tough for sure to slide info in the right places but when it comes to completing the whole picture I think it can sometimes be easier to add things in. (Focus on core concepts then add relevancy instead of going off the wall and losing the point with too much crap-that is probably why I cant write/ finish a book lol)
As for the how, one trick I've seen used to good effect is using paragraph breaks to pass on backstory without derailing the story. Nothing's so distracting as a narrative that suddenly derails and breaks momentum to delve into past details. Which isn't to say it can't be done, just that you have to think around the story moreso than inside it.
Currently, the MC narrates an event from the past, him meeting the main progtag. It's interactive with dialogue so at least it's not him just telling you things. Then I use an * and cut to a completely different scene/ the present. Nothing wrong with using an asterisk at times but Idk...if it's flowing the way I want to. The opening is for a bit of context and to help "pull you in" but if it looks better elsewhere I might have to move it again and come up with a different opening paragraph. (repeats to self) writing is fun, writing is fun
For instance...

You have two characters with something of a shared history who are sitting in a small restaurant eating lunch. Their history, while relevant, probably isn't something they're going to discuss. Doing so would constitute an example of ineptly expository dialogue... something probably better left for television writers.

So your characters are sitting at their table, either eating lunch or waiting on their food. Character One is talking about how the new boss is terrible, the workplace environment is becoming unbearable, and they're fast running up to their breaking point. They can't take it anymore. They're either going to quit or kill the new boss, and just then they aren't particular which way the wind's blowing.

Now...you could try to put details and backstory in between the lines and risk distracting from the exchange, but that's not what you want to do. Your reader needs to understand that these two are in this predicament together and any resolution will require the participation of both. It's up to you to get across the how/why of what put these two together in the past and why they're putting their heads together now.

Let's put this paragraph break theory into action, albeit in a stripped-down form.

(The characters are eating and idly complaining. After a few minutes, Character One goes to get a refill/use the restroom/whatever. C1 stands and drops a napkin on the table and slowly shakes their head)

"Yeah, the boss is an asshole. But we've dealt with those before."

C1 departs, however briefly. But before they go, they allow a smile that C2 recognizes as a harbinger of things getting wildly out of hand.

C2 thinks: I knew that smile. Echoes of Camp Crappywriter.


At this point your dialogue hits a natural pause. You could use this to drop some exposition. Or you could cut it hard right there and jump to a new paragraph and explain the smile, a little about C1's personality, and how this happened against the backdrop of Camp Crappywriter.

New paragraph, in retrospective:

Camp Crappywriter. Summer 1990. The year the we drained the lake, exploded the dining hall, and got permanently banned from public recitations of poetry...

C2 can relate this as an kind of self-contained mini-story within the larger narrative. Incidentally, this is easier to swing in first-person; you the MC are the camera, and odd changes in focus are an expected part of the format. Bear in mind that this mini-story will need to hold up on its own. You need an anecdote rather than an infodump.

Having told the story, C1 returns to the table and the meal resumes. The two characters continue to talk in the present day, though now the reader has an additional subtext: there's a problem, and it's not out of the realm of the possible that any solution may involve the destruction of marine environments, explosives, or public indecency.

You've also sidestepped the issues inherent in trying to stuff fifteen pounds of story into a five-pound scene. Things have a chance to breathe in the middle. The lunch conversation isn't weighed down by extraneous detail or whiplashing between past/present. In effect, the narrator has taken the reader aside momentarily to get them caught up without putting the other characters on hold.
You've also sidestepped the issues inherent in trying to stuff fifteen pounds of story into a five-pound scene. -I feel that...the struggle is real
Not a cure-all by stretch of the imagination, but it can be effective when judiciously applied.
yes, not a cure but perhaps one of the prescriptions 😆
Also is Camp Crappywriter still a thing? where do I sign up?
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Try a thought experiment. How often do you think about how your society is structured, in detail?

When writing 1st person, there will be many things your character will do and think nothing of it. The most common way to address this is to add a character that doesn't understand the society that requires those details to explained to them. Or, the MC themselves is a foreigner to the land.
 

KeganThompson

Staff member
Board Moderator
Try a thought experiment. How often do you think about how your society is structured, in detail?

When writing 1st person, there will be many things your character will do and think nothing of it. The most common way to address this is to add a character that doesn't understand the society that requires those details to explained to them. Or, the MC themselves is a foreigner to the land.
The more paranormal/ delusional aspect comes in a bit later but otherwise it takes place in modern era, I dont have to worry too much about the world building aspect. My focus is weaving in context and perception. How the subtle/small details will add up and make sense at the end. Guess im trying to figure out the best way/ when/ how to give hints/context/memories to what will lead to the end.
my "world building" will be from what his subconscious projects and how its relevant/how it will add up later (without giving too much away)
its a delicate balance I have no business tryna do tbh 😆
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I'm not sure I can give valid advice until I hear from beta readers if my backstories work. However, I do have quite a lot of backstories in my current WIP. (4 more chapters to go.) The reason they exist is that my characters' life experiences, education, and heritage play a role in their motivation. And my theme is very much about personal motivation and decision making. The approach I took is like @TheMightyAz suggests, it's relevant to the story, but also adheres to what @vranger said, as I hope it will be fun to read. The lead-in is always a scene where the character has a moment to contemplate, like sitting in rush hour traffic, waiting for someone in a restaurant, or in their own office taking a moment. Then I write the scene just as I would any other, using dialogue and whatever other stylistic techniques I use to make it a good read. So the backstories are the same quality and as meaningful as the present story. I never think of it as a "dump."

The other purpose for my backstories is that I have always planned this work to be part of a series. All of the main characters or their parents except for one are immigrants and have fled to the US for various reasons. The one character that is born in North America also has an interesting backstory but it serves as a sort of comparison, in motivations, having grown up in an affluent American family, and how that forms your personality. And what the characters have already encountered plays a large role in how they navigate through life's ongoing challenges. I plan to write a prequel where I cover the various migrations and the situation in their countries that caused them to flee, for example, the Cultural Revolution or a Communist government. It will be much harder to write because I will have to venture into factual national history which is not my area. That's why I started on this one first which is rooted in the financial world, something I know.

But, I think the secret is not to think of it as a "back story." You are sharing a story and it takes place over a period of time. Even in the present, you can't cover every single thing that happens. So it is just a selection of scenes and you can choose to present them in whatever order you wish.
 
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