So many new writers start their books with pages, even chapters of back story. They want to tell the reader all about the creation of their fantasy world. They want to make sure the readers understands every nuance of Mexican politics in 1956 because it will be critical to the to the plot on page 103. Promise. They want to make sure the readers understands every feature of time travel.
Then their writing coaches or editors innocently suggest that instead of including all this material in the opening chapters of their book, the author should create back strong through dialogue. Ah ha, the author thinks, dialogue, of course. And instead of jettisoning their precious descriptions and explanations, they simply put quotation marks around it.
Except none of your characters should talk like the narrator.
The beta readers for book one of the Future Girls series spent a great deal of energy trying to convince me to build a time machine. In order to deliver that information I cleverly inserted the description into dialogue, just like all the experts say to do:
“You know Jacob that we can’t send people back in time without the right about of energy and even though we’ve done an excellent job stealing energy from the Realty Cloud, I fear that there isn’t enough to get Charity into the past and out of danger. Just look at the flux capacitor levels, the microcosm indicator is off as well it, it needs to be a 90 percent for a guaranteed trip. Also you need to contact Michael and Leah and make sure they can divert another 89 giggawatts of energy to the main frame so in 100 hours she can make her jump back to the present.”
The problem with this particular description is that it is inserted while the laboratory is under attack. Even in fiction, no one spends that much time describing a process, and we assume that Jacob and Betsy already know a great deal of the back story because they are the backstory. Even if I wanted to make sure that the reader (as well as Charity) was clear about time travel, a cumbersome description like this only slows the action and raises more questions than it answers.
Betsy frowned at the bank of blinking lights. “We don’t have enough energy here, she has to go to the city.”
“Is there enough for her return?” Jacob asked.
An alarm sounded and Betsy hit the panel to the left to silence it. “Don’t know.”
In book three of Future Girls, Future Run. Before Rainah jumps back in time, the only advice she is given is “Keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times.”
So now what do you do? I told you to use dialogue instead of lengthy descriptions then I forbade you to burden the dialogue with too much information.
Have faith. Have faith in your characters and have even more faith in your readers. Use a limited amount of short hand that your readers will understand to convey what is going on. Use the characters to convey their expertise in their own proprietary language, which, admittedly can be troublesome in some cases but for the most part will add to the character and give us a sense of what’s going on.
Allow the reader to enjoy the journey. It can be more fun to discover the world and plot along with the heroine. Sometimes dense description, delivered at the beginning of the story sums up everything and the reader truly wonders why bother to read on.
Don’t do that.
Another disadvantage of placing every bit of information in the beginning of your novel or story is that by chapter four, you have nothing left to say.
If the situation has been explained, and you, as the author feel it’s all been said, you dialogue may then become more sterile. At that point you will understand intellectually that your characters must speak to one another, but if their situation as well as the plot has already been outlined, then they have little reason to advance the plot through the conversation.
Make the notes for your world, do the research. Become the expert in your field of study and of the world you are developing. But don’t discuss how to build a time machine.
Get the time machine free Future Girls