It was my turn to read again. I knew my story wasn’t moving right, knew I hadn’t nailed it. But, since I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, I shrugged and printed my pages to pass out to my classmates.
To their credit, they hammered me on all my unnecessary telling details. The problem with the first couple of chapters of Novel #3? Too much backstory. In truth, that’s not a surprise to me…it’s been my bugaboo for a while now. I chopped over 20 pages from the beginning of my last book. But still, even hearing what I expected, I struggled. How do I get my characters to the right place in the story without sharing all the particulars?
It took the workshop leader’s words to spell it out for me.
“Write in real time,” she said. “Write in scene.”
Holy Smokes. On Tuesday, July 9, 2013 a huge lightning bolt of epiphany struck southeastern Massachusetts.
Finally, I got it.
If my character is in a room, I need to write about what’s going on in the room, not what happened four months ago that led him to the room. If two characters don’t get along, it’s Okay to leave the reader wondering what caused the ill will. The reason for their argument will come out in due course, but in the meantime, it is enough that the reader knows they quarreled. Too much bla, bla, bla, slows the thing down.
A very good writer once said to me, “Sometimes we write backstory in order to learn the whole story ourselves. But the reader doesn’t need to know that much.”
I learned something else last week. Do you know the term “Killing our babies?”
I’m wielding the proverbial sword. Anything that doesn't move the action forward? Gone. So far, more than 1,800 words (babies) have lost their lives in my charge toward novel clarity. Things are getting ugly folks. I expect a lot more bloodshed.
But the story? Well, fingers crossed. It's starting to MOVE!
Jordan McCollum has some great tips on conquering backstory here.