If you follow my blog, then you know I’ve written a fantasy trilogy and I’m currently editing the last installment. I worked extensively today on the first two chapters, really hashing out something that’s been a big problem for my beta readers: working in the background info. You know, the references to all the stuff that happened in books one and two that readers need to remember to understand book three.
Any novel, series novel or not, will generally have some “historical” information about characters’ pasts that needs to be revealed. Doing so effectively is one of the things I struggle with the most as a writer. I’ve spent lots and LOTS of time trying to improve the references. It isn’t easy, but through the years, I’ve picked up some tips. After dealing all day with these issues, I thought I’d just write a few reflections/tips down.
- No Information Dumps. My big issue with my current WIP is that I made the rookie mistake of referring back to too much, too fast, all in one place. It’s always better to spread stuff out. Always always always. A remark here in dialogue, a flashback there…. Spread things out. Keep the mystery. Avoid boring or confusing your readers.
- Is it really necessary? When I run across an information dump, my first instinct is to find a way to consolidate the paragraph by moving some of the exposition elsewhere. Today, though–now that I have edited the draft numerous times–I was shocked to realize how much of the info I didn’t need at ALL, considering the grand scheme of the novel and what happens/what’s revealed later. It’s amazing how much a little fact tacked onto a sentence seems so important at the time I write it, and now I realize it’s just confusing and superfluous. CUT!
- Dialogue is better than narration for exposition. This is almost always the case, I’d think, as long as the dialogue is natural and not forced. An example that comes to mind: the way I introduced some expository info in the first chapter of my novel is to have a character who was a child when certain events occurred in an earlier book discover for the first time what happened, in a context that makes her rethink her approach to visiting the kingdom of Herezoth. The scene’s from her point of view, so the reader (re)discovers the events with her. (I’m not entirely sure this is as “natural” as it could be, though, in the way I wrote it. I have to send the new version back to my beta readers who had issues with the first chapters and see if the edits work for them.)