backstory, editing

The Dump

We’ve all been to the dump. It’s a smelly place, full of stuff nobody wants. Sure it was useful at some point in time, but not any more.

In writing we’ve all heard about the dreaded backstory dump. It is the place where you unload all the background information you think the reader needs to know in order to understand the story.

Dumping is a huge No-No in the Land of Writing.

I had someone read through my first chapter and I was told there were concerns regarding some of my dumping. The cool thing was this person proceeded to explain how I could make my story better. They sent me an email with examples of “before and after” paragraphs – first with backstory and then inserting snippets of backstory in dialogue.

Ding-A-Ding-Ding! Light-bulb-flash!!!!!

Ahhhh, so THAT’s how it’s done!

I was so excited about taking this first chapter of mine and seeing if I could delete my dump and intersperse it throughout, usually some dialogue and inner-monologue. I also received another critique that echoed and confirmed my dumping problem. I was ready to use that delete button and get the job done.

Alas, I didn’t get to this chapter transformation this weekend like I wanted AND planned. My mom called and was giving us their king-sized bed. (they were upgrading!) Oh my goodness! We drove to the neighboring town of Granbury, an hour away, and picked up our wonderful-ly comfortable and LARGE bed! I spent the rest of the day cleaning and rearranging furniture, scattering the dust far and wide.

But oh, it was nice to fall into that big bed and have some elbow room! I felt like we were staying in a hotel, because the only time we ever sleep in king-size beds is when we travel! lol

So it is with great excitement that I begin to edit and rearrange this backstory problem of mine tonight. Wish me luck!

My question of the day: Have you tackled the problem of backstory dumping? Is it a problem with each and every manuscript? Or have you learned to spread it out in creative and unique ways?

25 thoughts on “The Dump”

  1. Good luck!

    Thankfully, I didn't have any toubles with back story dumping this fourth time around. I managed to avoid it during the rough draft writing. But this, of course, was my fourth novel. About time I got the hang of it, I think. πŸ™‚

    Hope you enjoyed the bed!

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  2. Woohoo on the bed!
    Backstory dumping isn't a problem with every manuscript, no worries. πŸ™‚ It's mostly a first/second time thing, then you get it.
    Also, many times the backstory dump info is already in later chapters and the writer doesn't realize it. We tend to repeat ourselves. *grin*
    Have fun fixing up that chapter!

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  3. Oh yes! My first book I had HUGE amounts of it. You're so right, sometimes it just takes that a-ha moment to makes us realize, oh wow! There IS a better way!

    Another thing: They don't have to everything in the first chapter! Actually, very little, if any, backstory should be there. Many times I hint to it, but sometimes the not knowing (as long as it's not overly confusing) keeps the reader wanting more.

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  4. I love backstory and definitely dumped it in last time. I'm trying not to do that this time. It's a lot of fun just to allude to things. But I need to look through my WIP and see if what I've done so far is too much or not.

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  5. I am so happy for you to have a new, larger bed. Now you'll be able to edit with more energy, don't you think?

    I try to weave back story in the middle somewhere, after I've introduced some action and conflict. It's an art, but YOU can do it; we believe in you.

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  6. I'm still working on backstory dumping! I can usually catch it on edits, and try to rework the information in somewhere else… but I've been surprised a few times on re-reads that some of the backstory information just plain isn't necessary! It's a hard lesson to learn, but so very necessary. I'm definitely more aware of it these days when I'm writing, though.

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  7. I recently got my first four chapters back from a freelance editor and learned that I apparently did a description dump, where my POV character was checking out a guy and I described it all in one paragraph. So now I need to go back and figure out how I can intersperse it with dialogue, etc. I've also been known to do the backstory dump. *sigh*

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  8. I fell prey to the backstory dump early on. There was all this STUFF I thought the reader needed to know. Particularly in an historical based on true events. The opening chapter of one of my novels read more like a history text-book. Yikes!

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  9. Oh, I am jealous about the bed πŸ™‚ The extra room sounds wonderful.

    I used to be terrible with back story dumping and I had to learn over several manuscripts. My last story was a particular challenge because there was a TON of back story needed to complete the book. I ended up using flashbacks but didn't start them until the third chapter. And I tried to avoid back story for the most part during the first chapter. Just enough to intrigue the reader, with questions in the narrative here and there or short references that didn't detract from the flow.

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  10. That is so hard, Sherrinda. i don't envy you trying to rework that. I don't have the info. dump in the beginning, but I have had the problem of having a couple of slow scenes in the beginning that I must extract the info that must stay and re-insert that info into the scenes that are moving the story forward. Very difficult to do as well. Good luck and congrats on the new bed.

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  11. Sigh. I'm the exception to the norm and actually love back story. Yes, I have trouble snippeting it in but like the frame device, like Fried Green Tomatoes and The Shape of Mercy where you actually have two stories moving simultaneously so technically the history isn't a dump.

    Blessings on a great post!!

    Patti

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  12. Hi Sherrinda –

    I went through this with my first manuscript. Like anything, once you nail down a skill, it's easier to avoid the mistakes.

    I hope your Mom also gave you her king-sized sheets. πŸ™‚

    Blessings,
    Susan

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  13. Hi! I love this post. Getting little bits of backstory at a time is much more exciting for me as a reader. I love the intrigue it creates. Getting dumped with a bunch of information is no fun, of course being completely confused isn't any fun either. I'm sure your backstory will be presented in a wonderful way! Also, I've given you the Honest Scrap Award!
    Also, enjoy the bed!

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  14. I have to cut backstory dumping on revision. I just keep that first draft as a special “secret” for me. Their backstory is still there… even if some of it gets cut. It makes me feel okay about a brutal hack and slash in revision.

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  15. Good luck with that chapter. There's nothing like a new (used) bed.

    I write dystopian, so I have to educate the reader on a whole new world, as well as character background. I'm not sure I've figured out how to do it yet.

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  16. I've been learning through the years to sprinkle my backstory like bread crumbs along the way. I sometimes get anxious and want to serve it all up at once though for fear I won't get it all in.

    Sweet dreams in your new bed!

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