By Ronda Simmons
Writers spend months, even years, building the worlds where their stories take place. It’s so hard not to include every detail because let’s face it, we’re kind of proud of ourselves. We created a world!
Show it off, right? Wrong. Too much exposition is going to lose your readers’ interest. A bored reader is a former reader who will probably never give you a second chance.
How to Bore Your Reader
Here is an example of poorly-written exposition that tries too hard to give the complete backstory:
Andrea brushed her hair and thought to herself, I sure hope that the interconnected floating air tunnels, which we call worm ways, don’t fluctuate. My rival, Cartho, from the House of Ravenfall, is in charge of the flux capacitors. If they fail, I’m going to be very angry because he has a long history of sabotaging me, which goes back to the days of our fathers and grandfathers. I might have to cause him physical harm just as my great grandfather Argo did to his great grandfather Beltain at the beginning of the Quest Wars, which are still ravaging my country.
OK, that sucks. Why? Because no one thinks to themselves, or speaks, like that.
Here it’s better:
Andrea brushed her hair and thought to herself, Damn worm ways better hold steady, or I’ll show Cartho the meaning of pain.
Keep it brief and straightforward. In other words, name it and drop it. Chop and whittle to coin Chuck Wendig.
Name it and Drop it
Name it and Drop It is a technique used to avoid boring your readers by offering too much backstory at the wrong point in the story. Unless it’s critical to the action happening on the page, don’t go into much detail. Don’t show your reader what is behind the curtain. All they need to know is that there are curtains, and revelation will come when it’s essential.
Don’t let preparation and your need to share every detail of it ruin a good story.
Recently, at NCW’s Food for Thought, we started our discussion with a video breaking down how George R.R. Martin does this in Game of Thrones.
We are always balancing the show don’t tell. Backstory is one of the critical bits where this advice becomes crucial. Go ahead and write the backstory. Build the world. Outline those timelines. Just remember, ninety percent of that information should never reach the page.