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?

 

I absolutely love this infographic. Thanks to Christi from Novel Conclusions for sharing it!

Novel Conclusions

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Happy 2013!!!  Today is the first day of Lucky 13.  Are you excited?  I can’t hardly wait!

I thought this would be a good time to start out the new year with a super fun infographic from Business Insider, The Top Ten Most Read Books in the World:

I’ve read at least part of every book on this list except for Mao’s little red book (and I think it’s fairly safe to assume I can continue on just fine without reading that little Communism handbook).  2 things struck me about this list:

1.  These books are…

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Separating author from story

One of my goals for this year is to finish my work-in-progress by the end of the summer. By finish, I mean publication ready, whether that means marketing to agents or self publishing it.

Exciting, I know!

However, I am finding it difficult to tell my story in a way that will be appealing to all readers, and I think it’s because it’s such a personal story. I don’t want to give away too many details just yet, but the plotline involves my main character overcoming grief and demons regarding her grandmother’s passing which resurface with the failing health of her grandfather. She thought she’d dealt with all her problems and overcome her emotions, but now she realizes that all she did was shut them out. Cue philosophical, life-changing emotional growth!

That’s only one story arc of two or three that I’m currently playing with, but the story is so personal to me that I am getting in my own way of telling it. I plan to make this an homage to my grandparents who have passed, and as a result I have given my MC’s grandparents many of their qualities and sometimes deviate into unnecessary vignettes, etc. that don’t contribute to my plot or move my story ahead. BUT THEY’RE IMPORTANT TO ME! Just not the reader! 🙂 (Side note: See my “Words to Write By” in the upper right — I picked that quote because I feel it’s very fitting to my issue right now!)

So my challenge is finding a way to stay true to what I’ve set out to do in a way that I can live with and still tell a compelling story.

Anyone experienced this or have tips for getting over it? They’d be much appreciated!

Great editing, supportive community at Scribophile

The reason for my latest absence from this blog (aside from a huge pickup in freelance work) is that I’ve joined Scribophile. I love it. And you should join if you’re an aspiring writer.

There are two versions, a free and a premium subscription. Due to my lack of funds, I have the free version, but it’s still a great resource for having my work edited and having people who are well-read provide constructive feedback. In fact, I’ve been inspired to take one of my short stories and try to expand it into a full length novel (which isn’t going very well so far, but I digress).

So far, I’ve posted two chapters for critique. The way the site works is that posted work enters a “spotlight” for others to critique for full “karma points.” As more works are critiqued, they leave the spotlight and others enter in.

So what’s the reward for critiquing? Karma points, which users need in order to post their own work. So, the more works you critique, the more karma you earn, and the more of your writing you can post to the site. Plus, critiquing more posted works gets them out of the spotlight faster so that your own stuff can get there.

Overall, it’s a system that works fairly well. Of course, I have a work waiting for the spotlight for over two weeks now, but that’s just because there are TONS of great writers using the website. Many of the users have been published, and it’s a great community with a lot of advice to share among authors.

Groups, forums, and contests are also available for users to interact with each other outside of critiques and exchange information. The site also has an area to announce publications and promote work, too.

Overall, my experience this far has been wonderful. I highly encourage joining!

Again, that’s Scribophile.com

It’s Nov. 1st – GOGOGOGO!!!

Hey NaNo’ers! (Like that? I think that’s a common term for us November novelists…) I know it’s been a while since my last update, but …

It’s that time of year again and I have to say I’m SO excited to be able to finally have the time to give NaNo a legitimate shot this go ’round. I have a rought idea in mind for a story I’d like to get down (perhaps I’ll share some tidbits if I end up liking it enough!), and I hope everyone else has at least an inkling of where to go with their rough drafts too!

For inspiration, I found a list on Twitter of novels that were published that actually began as NaNoWriMo projects. It includes one of my all-time favorite reads (and I highly, HIGHLY reccommend it after the craziness of this month is over!) The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. HOLY CRAP! I never knew! But the book is so great. Of course, as the article states, she didn’t publish it in it’s NaNo form. Heavy editing was applied before this one hit the shelves. 🙂

Another novel that was wildly popular (enough to be made into a MOVIE recently!) that doesn’t appear on the list but that I know began as a NaNo project is Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen.

So there you have it, folks. Perhaps 50k in 30 days is the perfect motivation for some of us (including me) to get that first draft of a manuscript out of our heads and onto the page!

Also, for your reading pleasure, and perhaps as a help to get yourselves started: Do You Have a Plot?

Was Perusing Tumblr Today…

And discovered the “writing” tag. I mean, I knew it was always there, of course, but I decided to actually legitimately read it today. I was impressed with how many people simply pour their souls out into a couple lines of poetry for all the world to search on tumblr without so much as a disclaimer. And here I’m only ballsy enough to put links to my edited and pre-published work!

But yes, the writing tag on tumblr. If you’re looking for a confidence boost, I highly recommend it. There’s just something about seeing other people do what you are trying to do that makes it seem a lot easier and less intimidating. Here’s the link, if you’re not familiar with tumblr: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/writing

Hope this helps anyone who’s in the space between having written and polished a project and hesitating to take the plunge into actually putting it out there for others to read. Good luck and happy writing!

How Long Can A Short Story Be?

My 9th grade honors English literature teacher told us during the first week of our unit on short stories that “a short story is short enough that it can be read in one sitting.”

That’s all fine and dandy, of course, except for one thing: I read the sixth Harry Potter novel in one “sitting” (I stayed up all night to finish it). I only paused for dinner, and there have definitely been times where I read short stories for school and paused to eat dinner. So the next logical question would be, “How long is one sitting?” And of course, there’s no real definite answer to that!

So how long can a short story really be? I’m currently refining a short story I wrote for publication in my college’s literary magazine, but it seems like every time I revise, the piece gets longer! I decided to turn to Google to see what the Internet’s consensus was on the appropriate or average length of a short story.

As you might have predicted, there doesn’t really appear to be a consensus. On one website, http://fiction-writing.yoexpert.com, there was a handy little chart that classified projects based on the number of words, as seen here:

While it might not be possible to capture all of the numerous subgenres of narrative fiction that have been imagined, here is a brief list of the more common types of stories, organized by length from shortest to longest:

•     Under 1000:     Flash fiction, or “short short” stories
•     1,000-7,500:     Short story
•     7,500-20,000:     Novelette
•     20,000-50,000:     Novella
•     Over 50,000:     Novel

But on the short story Wikipedia page, the length of a short story is placed at anywhere between 1,000 and 9,000 words, and uses Edgar Allen Poe’s The Philosophy of Composition as “the” measure for a short story at about 4,500 words. A third source over at http://talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com/ draws the line at 7,500-12,000 words. This author also mentions having a “natural length” where a writer feels comfortable with his/her short story, which is something to consider. Maybe I’m just naturally long-winded, and therefore have a longer “natural length” for my short stories!

Clearly, there isn’t a correct or universally accepted length for a short story. My current project is bordering on 7 double-spaced pages, so I’d estimate it at anywhere between 4,000-7,000 words. Guess I’ll find out when I try to submit it whether or not that’s too long.

Feel free to chime in on your own natural length or what you believe is too long for a short story!