Easing Readers Into Background Info

An author must help her readers "dig up" the past in a way that isn't jarring and isn't overwhelming. A bit of mystery is always good to maintain! Why reveal everything at once?

An author must help her readers “dig up” the past in a way that isn’t jarring and isn’t overwhelming. A bit of mystery is always good to maintain! Why reveal everything at once?

Following on yesterday’s post, I wanted to talk more about background info and how to disperse it: specifically, I want to discuss a problem I always have in my first drafts that I end up correcting later.

Suppose there’s a big event in book 1 that I need to remind readers of in book 3. A big connection between characters, such as this:

  • Characters A, B, and C fought in a resistance group against Character D, who stole the throne.
  • Characters C and D were siblings. Didn’t quite get along.
  • Character C had a son who was orphaned during the struggle and characters A and B saw he was taken care of as he grew up.

It’s quite a lot, and it’s confusing to keep straight for a reader. My big mistake in my book 3 is feeling like I have to refer to every link of the chain the first time mentioning one link becomes necessary. That isn’t the case at all!

If character A is in the novel’s first scene, and there are references to her past in the resistance, there needn’t be references to character C at all. Even if character B is king now, his name and the fact that he personally knows character A might not be necessary info right away, depending on the tone of the passage and what specific aspects of Character A’s past are relevant at the moment. Is the NAME of the resistance movement necessary in the first scene? I’d think not. No one mentions it in dialogue. That bit of information isn’t needed in narration, then. I moved it elsewhere.

WHAT’S RELEVANT AT THE MOMENT? That’s the key. Characters A and B and their relationship become a big part of the novel. But their past needn’t come into play in the very first scene, right? It’s too much, too soon. And there’s no reason for it. There’s something to be said for the art and the fun of discovery.

Editing the introduction of background info is so difficult…. My approach has become to pick expository paragraphs apart, phrase by phrase. The info in a phrase: is it needed to understand the scene I’m working with? If it is, it stays. If it isn’t, I cut it and move it to a place where it becomes necessary. Sometimes I find I repeat myself in the same chapter, giving the same info in different words…. That’s not good to do. It’s just jarring. If I can explain the information once, clearly and succinctly, then I can trust my readers to understand.

This approach is working well at the moment, as I edit the last book in my trilogy…. I’m hoping it does a lot to make the first two chapters flow better and make them easier to comprehend as well. We’ll see what the beta readers think!


4 responses to “Easing Readers Into Background Info

  1. Glad you gave us a bit more on this topic. Your description of how you go through expository pieces line by line and ask yourself if it is really needed at that moment of the story is very helpful. And of course having the confidence to trust the reader. Thanks – great post – a real double header 🙂

    • thanks Francis! expository info is tough to deal with, and I’m sure there is more than one successful one to handle editing it. That’s the approach I’ve found is working for me, since the backstory is causing me such issues in my current WIP 🙂

  2. Your editing seems to be going well; are you finished by now? The ‘relevant in this moment’ thing is something I’ll keep in mind as I edit my own sequel.

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