1. Rapaz
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    Rapaz Member

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    How do you give the reader information without boring them?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Rapaz, Mar 29, 2012.

    I started to work on my first novel and I have a problem. I don't know how I should go about giving the reader information about the world/setting without being boring or exhaustive.

    I decided to incorporate a memory of the MC's childhood where an elder was telling him about the origins of his world/race, but having a person tell you something will probably require some personal opinion and I just wanted a neutral story-telling.

    This is especially hard since I'm writing fantasy, in a world I myself created, and where I don't even feel comfortable using the world "human" even though the main races "look" human.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I'd be willing to bet real money that the reader doesn't really need to know this. A description? Yes. History? Probably not. This is the kind of thing that writers feel compelled to include because they've worked it out, but it really doesn't add anything to the story. My suggestion is this: write it, but as a separate essay for yourself. Then write the story without it and see if it makes sense. If you find you really need it, incorporate the smallest amount you can get away with.

    Good luck.
     
  3. Rapaz
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    Rapaz Member

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    I tried that and the feedback I got was that the story was good but it needed more depth, more explanation about what was happening.

    I guess my problem is finding a balance.
     
  4. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    Yes, you do need history. History changes the way your world is viewed.

    In your particular case, I would need to see the actual piece. It's possible that you could introduce a subplot where the character finds out about his world. You could also make the elder a more prominent figure, rather than a fleeting plot device (as he seems to be from your brief description).

    Or... you could have the character explaining the history to someone else. (Who doesn't know it.) Then you can impose the MC's own views on it, which we actually care about, rather than some random elder.

    I don't, however, think that you should make this a long and protracted flashback. That will unquestionably bore the reader. I suggest you keep the giving of information all in the present time.

    You could also take the Orson Scott Card approach and give information at the beginning of each chapter, in a different font, as a literary excerpt or a private conversation. The problem with that is making sure the reader can figure out who's talking. Names, now and then. Later, character, general sense of who knows what. That can work.

    Overall - it is a very tricky balance and some people walk it with ease. I don't.
     
  5. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    There are plenty of ways to add depth without dumping information on the reader. In fact, it might do the opposite, since infodumping interrupts the story sometimes quite harshly. Make your story deeper. Make your characters more real. What is your overall theme? How can you deepen its meaning?

    The only information you need are ones that are directly important to what's happening right now. Yes, that war twenty years ago is important, but as the main character practices his sword technique, do readers really need three paragraphs of war description, or will a sentence do the trick?

    If you have a huge long history thought out, great! That will make your story seem more real. But 90% (or more) of backstory we come up with never actually needs to be used.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with Ed - it sounds like useless information.

    Write story, not back story. There's nothing wrong with leaving the reader in the dark about much of the past. On the contrary. A healthy curiosity keeps the reader hungry for more.
     
  7. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    But what's wrong with a bias story teller? In fact I recommend a bias one than a neutral one because neutral story telling have a chance of sounding like a history lesson (read: boring info-dump). May be the story teller was trying to influence the young MC's mind in a good/bad way. How does it affect the MC's action? Has the MC now realize the true motive of the story teller? Are those memories fond or bitter?.... well, you have 'character's depth' right there. So, I don't mind flashbacks as long as I am getting some juicy stuff about the character and the story. You are creating (or at least trying to) characters who have personalities and opinions. Let them be and don't try to make them parrots who recite history lessons!
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I missed this until Killbill's comment, and I agree that neutral story-telling is a mistake. A deeply biased story, though, could be one kind of sneaky backstory that could work. That's because you could focus on the personality of the storyteller, his strong opinions, perhaps the listener's discomfort with those opinions, and in general make it an scene of interpersonal conflict rather than a story.

    I wouldn't make it a memory - that, IMO, requires so much structure that it will draw excessive attention to itself and might make the reader realize that it's a history lesson. I'd make it an opinionated ranting in the present:

    "The King? The _King_? Don't quote His Royal Snake's opinions to me; I know better! Oh, yes, he cried when his father died. He cried again when his brother died. He filled buckets of tears when his nephews--three of them, mind you, three heirs to the throne!--went down in the Eastern Ocean in the calmest summer since my granddaddy was born. He sobbed all the way to his coronation. Oh, yes, yes, I know, it was pirates, that's what he said. Pirates, the silk wars, oh, woe is me, my nepheeeeews! That filthy... what? No, I won't be quiet. If a free fighting man can't have his say any more, then it's just about time to find a new branch on that royal tree, that's what I say."
     
  9. mootz
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    mootz Member

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    Try not to be so plain as to write a dumb character who doesn't pay attention in class or doesn't care about anything, it's been done to death. Like it's mentioned before, Tell people stuff as they need to know it and not before, and certainly not after.

    "Oh, you don't know about the seven hundred year great machine war? When the robots killed all the TV anchors."

    "No, I missed that."

    "Well...blah blah blah"
     
  10. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    I find it works well for me to write the story as if the reader already knows the backstory and then after the fact I go back and add a couple lines here and there to help bring things into a better light.
     
  11. Rapaz
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    Rapaz Member

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    Thank you for all the great advice, I'll take it all into consideration.

    Would it be ok for me to post the small excerpt here?
     
  12. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Ditto everything already said.

    When I needed to establish an important piece of backstory (namely how the version of historical events in my story differs from the the one everyone generally accepts) I decided it was worth a prologue, but only because i knew it would be an action packed, interesting prologue, not just an infodump. If you want to get info across, try to do it in a scene where something interesting is actually happening, not just a framing scene included only for the purpose of explaining a load of stuff in a reflection/flashback. Show, don't tell, as they say :D
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    No, the problem is that adding history is not adding expanation of what is happening in the story itself.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, but no. Please read the site rules.
     
  15. TinaB
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    TinaB New Member

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    You might also want to think about taking a descriptive section of what you have written and try turning it into dialogue to convey the same meaning. It can be tricky, but some dialogue might give a bit of variety to the text and keep the reader interested.
     
  16. shangrila
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    shangrila Member

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    I try to incorporate any of that stuff into the scenes themselves. For example, I sort of explained magic with a backhanded comment while my mage was fighting, while another character gets told a few past points in history while being berated for being ignorant.
     
  17. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    Think of it as guiding a blind man across a room. He doesn't need to know about everything in the room, just the items he'll encounter along the path he walks. You wouldn't describe everything before he even starts walking. You'd tell him about the items as he encountered them.
     
  18. jackratko
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    jackratko New Member

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    dude.. ur my god....
     
  19. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    Although it's considered SF, not Fantasy, if you take Dune by Frank Herbert, this has some really intricate worldbuilding and history, but the reader is informed in such a way that it's never intrusive.
     
  20. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Try Hunger Games. I just finished and the way Collins built her world up was brilliant. Very simple writing that gives you vivid descriptions and a real sense of the world - not just physical details but really a feeling, an atmosphere for the world. She does a LOT of back story, actually, and her narrator is prone to such lapses, but they're all interesting because Collins built it up first. She's mention something in passing, but give no detail - and then she shows you how this thing that's been mentioned clearly affects her character - and then comes an appropriate moment several chapters later, you get told the story behind the detail. By that point, you WANT to know the back story - it's no long back story, it's a way of getting to know the character herself. Or at the beginning of the book, Collins mentions the "reaping" - I had no idea what it was and judging by the characters' reactions, it was nothing good, which piqued my curiosity, and only several pages later does Collins reveal what the reaping was. So use your characters' reactions to things to make your readers interested.

    Do it that way ;)

    as for myself, I do it via dialogue often.
     
  21. W. E. Burrough
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    W. E. Burrough Member

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    I throw in information as it's called for. For example, my main character hates her given name. When her publicist calls her by it she says, "Don't call me that." I, as the narrator, take it upon myself to hand out a few sentences as to why she loathes her name. I start out as vague as possible; the reader doesn't need to know everything so soon.

    Whenever you feel backstory is necessary, go into it. Though, I advise steering clear of flashbacks. Interruptions in the story oft detracts from the plot, make sure everything flows properly.
     
  22. marcuslam
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    marcuslam Senior Member

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    When I'm reading books, I find that I'm more accepting of background information if they're well separated. Also, only bring up the back story when the reader actually wants to know about it. Hope that helps!
     
  23. names
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    names Member

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    You develop a voice using your personality, choice of words, and what you know. That way you can convey information in an entertaining way and thus can better narrate the story.
     
  24. sunwave
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    sunwave Member

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    Backstory is needed, but not always in the text. Most of it can be on a seperate paper/file and in your head. Only scatter around hints in the story, or short descriptions here and there about what happened. Maybe some aftereffects that are still noticed (for a war: Ruined/abandoned castles. A name that became taboo. Statues of the victors/warheroes. A cities/villages/streets named after leaders. A graveyard for fallen soldiers). This can all help telling the backstory without... telling the backstory... XD
     
  25. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I'm more of a "show don't tell" kind of guy. But sometimes you have to relate info or descriptions or give the readers a clue to how the characters think. I create "narrator" characters. Let me explain.

    My lead is about to get fired from his job. It's a trumped up charge by an unholy alliance, but it's a serious condition, perhaps jail time. My lead and his best friend try to figure out the angles over drinks in the lead's kitchen. But I want to limit the dialogue and use the surrounding events as plot points. So I created a narrator--a hard drinking, imposing, dangerous loud mouthed female merceny.

    The hook is that she witnessed part of the events, but hung back to observe the tying of the noose. She arrives late to the scene entitled, "Hell, I Was There." It allows me to tip certain plot points, and it creates some comic relief. People who have learned of her like her inclusion, and I'm going to include her now as a contributing supporting character.
     

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