A recent post over at the Guild of Dreams had me thinking about how I handle background information in my stories. Not that I don’t think about background quite a lot. I do! I love world building and tend not to start writing, well really writing the novel, until I’ve delved into the world and the lives of the characters.
That process creates a lot of information. Which is what got me philosophizing on how exactly do I share it with readers?
If you’ve read any of my writing, you already know I tend not to have any info dumps. Yes, there are occasional passages of description, but no lengthy histories of forgotten conflicts, past romances, or the rise and fall of kingdoms. It isn’t that the information doesn’t exist. It does. But really, how much does a reader need to know?
I must be on the far end of the info dump category. I share backstory and world building in drips and drabs, choosing key moments and concise sentences to convey the information. I trust the reader to walk into the world and let it unfold slowly.
I realize that I treat reading a novel very much like building a relationship.
There is an initial like (I hope!) of a story based on how it is written (prose) and an initial spark with a character. More information on the world and the characters is gleaned over time, through action as much as a growing experience gained by navigating the world. The longer the reader invests in the story, the more they will know.
And I can’t explain why I write that way!
Perhaps it is because there is just too much backstory to share every detail. And so many of the details just aren’t important to the story. Do you really need to know a character’s first memory? Probably not, though I did share Sinika’s in the first chapter of Rule of Fire. Why? It emphasized his desperation and attachment to fire. It served a role.
But I never shared why you never hear Zhao mention his parents even though he is an important character and I did share bits of family information on Niri, Ria, Lavinia, Ty, and Darag. It just never came up.
And that illustrates how and why I share backstory and what I mean by gaining information the longer you stick with the story. The details come when you need them – or at least when I know you’ll need them later (I love clues!). You gain more windows into the world and characters the further you read. Though sometimes I throw in a description because it fits the scene or the mood… or because it sounds just so gosh darn pretty!
Do I think all authors should write this way?
Gosh no! I don’t think it is a better way to tell a story. It’s just my way and my style. I’m sure it can be frustrating for some readers who might like to know details right up front. I try not to let my readers feel lost, but I don’t want to burden them with unnecessary information just because I spent months making it up! I might not always get the balance right.
How do you like to see backstory handled?