It's time for our penultimate Show Don't Tell Workshop, and Kate is back with us today to take a look at blending in backstory.
"Another double vodka, Mel?"
I smiled, knowing exactly why he wanted to get me another drink. Idiot.
Last year, at the office Christmas party, I got drunk - blotto drunk. That's when I was going through my rock-bottom period, what with Mum being ill, Dad being AWOL, and my eldest son overseas, and the party - and its open bar - allowed me the opportunity to forget everything and have some f**ing fun.
I've never been able to handle my booze and that night at the party had been no exception. I'd started on the welcome glass of champagne, but people just kept topping up my glass - something of which I was later informed by Becky. I'd made such a prat of myself: I tried it on with at least four of my colleagues, nearly knocked myself out pole-dancing, vomited down my WHITE dress, and passed out in the middle of the dancefloor - and that's the short version. I'd been the laughing stock for months afterwards, but also the best entertainment the entire office could have asked for.
I internally sighed and shook my head. "No thanks, Tim. I'm good."
Now let's analyse this...
In truth, there's not much wrong with the actual writing in this example. It's got voice, humorous detail, and really gives us a fair amount of info about the main character. If this is the kind of style your book takes, with the character often diverting from the action to fill the reader in on past moments through lengthy internal monologues that have great humor and relevance, then I would say leave as is. It works just fine. In fact, lots of you might just prefer it to the revised version below!
But, we can look at ways in which all this backstory could be blended in more subtly, so not compromising on reader immersion. A few of the details could be removed and perhaps blended in at a later date, or earlier depending on where in the novel this scene takes place, and others could be hinted at whilst we see the character in more detail and adding in some sensory extras.
There's no one way to do it when it comes to reducing backstory and information dumping. My advice to clients is, as they revise, to always highlight dialogue, action, and scene setting, and where you haven't highlighted much at all you are likely to find interior monologues and back story that might just benefit from being broken up.
Here's an example of how this could be written, with the backstory in red and weaved in to the action.
"Another double vodka, Mel?"
I smiled, leaning my elbows on the beer-soaked bar and knowing exactly why he wanted to get me another drink. Idiot.
With the forced grin fixed firmly on my face, I fought back the images of my vomit-soaked WHITE dress, the pole-dancing induced lump on my forehead, and the blurred sea of legs circling me as I collapsed on the dancefloor, and met Tim's eyes, the tinsel dangling from his Santa hat like massive glittering eyebrows.
The droning, new-fangled dance beat pounded through my head, reminding me of how old I was, and how another Christmas party like that disaster last year was not going to be repeated. I was no longer at rock bottom after all.
And, there was no doubt he was still fuming about why he hadn't been one of the four I'd tried it on with. Jealous idiot.
Becky snickered behind me, and my smile grew even wider. I internally sighed and shook my head. "Thanks, Tim, but I'll buy my own drinks this year."
So, what you have here is a lot of the same information, the odd detail left out that might not be essential right now, but perhaps a few more visuals, more setting thrown in among the back story, which itself is passed on to the reader more as momentary memories as opposed to a longer recount of the event. The voice is still there but the subtlety is magnified, and still the same information can easily be gleaned about what went down at that Christmas party.
Was that helpful? Let us know in the comments!
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!