Giving Backstory WITHOUT Info Dumping?

This is the current challenge I’m facing with my WIP. I need to explain some backstory, as my protagonist’s character flaw stems from a death in her family that happened way in the past.

I know the first question I should be asking myself is “Is it really necessary information?” It is — without including it, my readers and critiquers are kind of like, “Meh, she’s just dramatic and sad.”

It’s actually a lot harder than I originally thought. I want to show and not tell, but it’s hard to “show” history. Just about every writer will tell you, “NEVER INFO DUMP. EVER!” (Imagine someone saying that you to in the same manner the Mythbusters always give their “never try this at home… EVER!” warning… hehe.)

But in my research, I’m finding that some writers say info dumping might be the only tool in certain situations. And if that’s the case, you’ve got to work to try to make this information matter to the reader now.

Some suggestions I’ve collected from various writer’s blogs on how to accomplish this include:

“The more your information dumps relate directly to a story element currently at play in your narrative, the easier it is to hold an audience’s attention.” – From Lit Reactor

“Add Tension:  Make the info dump something that causes problems for the characters.” – From Jami Gold’s Blog

“I think the key to making information entertaining is to entwine it with drama — and that means ensuring that the characters’ happiness is tied to it too.” – Ruv Draba, a moderator at Scribophile

Would anyone else care to offer their opinions, advice, or techniques for getting essential backstory to the reader without the dreaded info dump?



5 thoughts on “Giving Backstory WITHOUT Info Dumping?

  1. Thanks for linking to my blog! 🙂

    With one character, I used “mini-flashbacks” (literally just one or two lines) to hint at her past. One page mentions her not wanting to be like her father, another page mentions how she refuses to kill, another page has her remembering her mother’s face covered in blood (and in the very next line, pushing the memory away), etc.

    By the time she gives the full details in Act Two (in response to another character’s question that fits the flow of the story), the reader already has a fairly good idea that her father murdered her mother. They were just missing the details of the how/why, and the active scene between the two main characters shared those details when they were appropriate.

    Hope that helps! Good luck with your story!

    • Ahh yes. Just little sprinklings instead of a huge “dump”… Great way to go about it!

      And thank you for the sharing the information so I could find it and share it here! Happy writing!

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