♦Welcome to another edition of the Open Book Blog Hop!♦
What’s your best technique for working around backstory dumps?
Welcome back to another Open Book Blog Hop! The authors included in this ongoing series wish to thank you for your reads. We appreciate, even more so, when you share our writings with your friends. If you’re new to the series, welcome aboard. The authors engage and impress weekly. Prepare to become a regular reader.
J.R.R. Tolkien is my introduction to the epic fantasy genre beyond the childhood fairy tales that I enjoyed immensely. He was a historian and linguist. I cannot speak to if the grandfatherly Englishman was a good person. However, I know that he survived the Great War and this framed his work. I also know, Tolkien has some dry slogs.
Regardless of the tough haul you may find when attempting one of his works, that same work still has a big appeal for readers. He ranks high to this day. Part of that slog contains information dumps. What would provide a better way in which to disseminate the information this author felt was integral to the narrative he was dropping the reader into?
Some sight Star Wars for building the lore of the fiction’s universe throughout the story, instead of information dumping (I wish I had the article that said this, but it was in 2020). Yet, we still have that notable read through at the start of each film. An information dump. Are information dumps just necessary in some cases? How can you tell if you have that case?
The modern answer is to avoid it at all costs, if you ever want to get published. That is actually no answer at all. It just repeats the question in other words. Let me be completely honest: I have had to use information dumps. For example, Trailokya contains universe lore. If I had attempted to unpack that lore throughout the novel, those references may have disappeared in edits as superfluous writing, and the understanding of the universe lost. Thus, I chose a prologue in which to place these few pages, and I placed it at the start of the first in the trilogy.
In OP-DEC, the matter went quite differently. Readers find themselves in a flashback. In writing the script, that scene could easily move to another scene. Although I haven’t done so yet, it is on my to-do-list. Flashbacks are a nice tool that allows an author to release information in scenes. Using this tool only makes sense when the character reasonably could reflect on the moment, it answers a question, and/or it shows impetus and shapes the character more clearly.
Flashbacks can be abused. Some writers lean too heavily on the tool, as if the character relates every move to something that happened in the past. This is not something that goes on in real life. Although our actions are definitely framed by our knowledge, we aren’t always pausing at every moment to think back when. The list I made above is a good test to ensure you’re using them correctly. The more boxes it ticks, the better!
Information dumps often take the form of description. Whether the description is of the character or an object, know that your reader doesn’t require a rundown of your main at the start of your story. Take that information dump you’re feeling tied to, place it in a notes file, and start over. You might want to say, but it’s imperative they know she’s a redhead. Ask yourself why. Is this about controlling what your reader sees? If so, what power does the hair color have (and this is only one of many examples I could use)? Does it contribute in important ways to the plot?
This is one of the reasons we have to reach out to someone else to do the editing. When we are so tied to the details that don’t matter, we can lose focus and our writing loses focus, too. Attributes are fun ways to help readers relate and/or like a character, or even despise them, but they are too often overdone. While they provide details that are intertexts, they’re not so necessary that your writing should suffer a dump.
It’s okay to take your time describing a character’s appearance, or the setting (room, office, street, forest…). However, a lot of what is dumped is unnecessary. Conserving your words on these matters gives you more space for important plot points. It is just better writing.
Think of your work as a pan in which you’ve collected water. The water represents the contents of the story, every drop combined to fill it up. It’s obvious that your pan can only hold a specific number of drops, so you must decide which drops to include. First, don’t make a bigger pan. Instead, collect only the drops of water that matter to create the perfect pan of water.
Or, envision your work like a recipe. In this example, the writer will more clearly see the superfluous (wordiness/information dump). For example, you don’t write a recipe with the organic compound descriptions, nor the chemical names. Instead, the use of familiar terminology leads the way, along with precise/concise words for both ingredients and directions. (Think of those blogs with a huge side-story ahead of the recipe. When you have to scroll too far, you’re more likely to walk away than keep reading. You’re not there for this side-story. You’re there to cook!)
Another example: resist going into detail about the forest–unless you’re describing something completely new to humanity, which can be the case in science fiction or fantasy. Please–don’t get carried away. There will be things familiar and unfamiliar. Resist rehashing the familiar. Spare your reader. Highlight what is different. Be concise. Be calculating. Why does it matter?
A writer does see the scene like a film in their head. That doesn’t mean they will ever be able to convert that view to written word. In other words, adapting a vision has disappointing results for many reasons. Much of what is seen just doesn’t translate, or it bogs down the narrative too much. Writers have to be ok with that and resist trying to control every bit of what they want to convey. You’d be surprised how close to your vision that your reader’s is.
Writing well is a skill that comes with time and practice. Editors are there to help you achieve your best writing. Resist those information dumps. Just to recap, when you find it impossible: ask yourself the important questions about them to troubleshoot. Also recall, they’re not always avoidable.
That’s all for now! Let’s check out what the other authors on the hop have to say on the topic. Click on their links below to read through how they manage information in their work: