Then this happened
Then this happened
And finally, that happened.
But, the reader asks. How did the heroine feel?
What did the hero do?
What did the forest look like?
Often new writers worry about their character getting from point A to Point B. They get caught up in the admonishment of show don’t tell and consequently devote pages to describing the morning routine of a character: Sam woke and stretched, the sun poured through the windows and made him squint. The coffee maker burbled to life and he remembered when he purchased the expensive machine, it was right after Veronica left him. . . or a detailed description of how a character traveled from there to here resulting in lengthy descriptions of the passing scenery, how often they stopped for gas, how many Ding Dongs were on the the convenience store shelf, how the low sun felt in their eyes as they drove due west. . .. . . see you are already skipping ahead!
What the fiction writer can do is skip ahead. The character began at point A and traveled to Point B arriving tired and thirsty all in a single sentence.
Instead of beating the reader over the head with a day by day travel log, here’s what you can do.
The bar tender set a glass of bourbon on the bar. “See any bandits?”
“Nope.” The heroine sipped her drink, relishing the chance to just sit for a minute.
First, you did the reader a favor by skipping the boring parts of the story, like allowing your hero to sleep on a 13 hour flight and arrive in Bangkok as refreshed as anyone is. The second thing this particular exchange does is give a tiny bit of background and information. Lucky. The readers now knows the heroine fortuitously escaped danger on her recent journey. Maybe there will be more danger on the trip back. Maybe a secondary character is dead center of that danger right now.
Lucky. A single comment fraught with narrative potential. That’s what you strive for, that’s the creative construction of our sentences.
Done. Now move on to the action.
What can you do with your current work?
If you have long narrative descriptions, what can be done to shorten it? We discussed dialogue as a strong vehicle for conveying back story. What about the narrative, who is responsible for that back story?
Use your characters. Backstory can come to them during a trigger point. Like most of us, one situation can remind us of another situation, use that for a little more story, a little more explanation, a an opportunity to advance the plot.
Or a backstory can be flung into the face of a character and cause a crisis.
On a limited basis, you can back story a character’s thoughts or ruminations. Sometimes this can be read as very awkward and takes some massaging. Less is more in this instance. Too much explanation bogs down the story, or as an old Drive-In Critic Joe Bob Briggs liked to say – too much plot getting in the way of the story.
Don’t do that.