When is dumping too much?

As I write, I tend to over write my stories, or at least I use to do that. So today I'd like to speak about something we've all heard, fondly called in the writing world as Back-story Dump. So what exactly do they mean by that? From my own experience it's when we tend to write too much too soon. One of the very first short stories I ever wrote (Last Exit To Babylon) was about a dragon who got caught in a time travel experiment and ended up in our modern world. Needless to say I back-story dumped all over the place! My then new critique partners had a field day with this story way before I ever dreamed of submitting it. (I think that was my first adventure toward becoming the cut queen I am now.)

It's such a balancing act between too much information and not enough. As fiction writers, we have to make sure every word, every phrase, dialogue, description, or idea is there for a reason--either to reveal the main character(s), deepen the plot or move the story forward.

I'm always worried about putting in too much. I hear a lot about back-story dump these days. I’m reminded to, 'stay the course'. That means to keep the story on a straight and narrow pathway, don't veer off too far, make every word and phrase count, and by all means watch that back-story dump! If you really need to show the reader something that will advance the plot,

In case there is a question, simply put, back-story dump is writing in too much information or background—especially all at once, or rambling on and on when it isn't necessary. It takes the reader off the course of the story you are trying to tell. HQN Historical author, Deborah Hale says that she writes anything she wants just to get the ideas out when starting a new story. But when she's really ready to get down to it, she dumps most everything and starts her real book at around her original chapter five.

I like to think of the word sprinkle as I'm writing. It helps me a lot, since I tend to write on and on. It is a practice to do this-- hold back and put something in to make the plot even more intense, but only in sprinkles. As Deborah Hale says, first drafts can be rambling.

I learned a bunch about back-story dump as I wrote those first stories. It is easier for me now to just sprinkle as I go, and not have to cut out or rewrite gobs of words, which takes up precious writing/revising time.

So what are your methods to avoid this back-story dumping process? Do you have your own Babylon that helped you learn what not to do?



Dianne said...

You are so right, Kaye. I don't think the subject of backstory dump can be overstated.

Hywela Lyn said...

A very good post here Kaye, it's so easy to 'backstory dump'without even realising it.

Thanks so much for your comment on my Blog. Yes the Last Night Of The Proms is a wonderful event, you might catch up with it on TV over there, I understand it's broadcast internationally these days.

You and I both have similar tastes in our writing and reading. I love Science Ficiton and fantasy, especially when served with a healthy dollop of romance!

Shelley Munro said...

Thanks for popping by my blog. I know I'm guilty of putting too much backstory in. My cure is to write the story I want to tell and go back, dropping off the first three or so chapters. It's a balancing act between telling the reader too much and not telling them enough. Who said writing was easy? ;-)

Suzanne Brandyn said...

Hi Kaye,
I think backstory is just that...it's all the events before the hero and heroine's meeting. It should stay backstory until such a time you can filter in what happened to them. You can do this by either dialogue between the two, or gradually introduce bits at a time.
It's great to have backstory to know your characters history before you start. But that doesn't necessarily mean to let your readers find out by a huge dump at the beginning of a story.
In most cases it's only a matter of two to three sentences, which will hook your reader in. The reader needs to know what has happened in their past. Just a hint of the conflict. Thus, hooking your reader and hopefully she will want to keep reading.
Suz :)

Debs said...

I certainly did have my Babylon back dumping story with my first novel. I left it for about a year and when I re-read it ended up deleting over 25k words. It was painful at the time, but certainly needed doing.

Christina Phillips said...

I always started my stories way too soon and would have to cut like mad. Then this year, for some crazy reason, I started two stories too late in the action - and my cps didn't know what on earth was going on. I'm hoping with my wip I've finally got the balance right!!

Helen Hardt said...

It was great to read all these responses -- this seems to be a mistake lots of us make. My first romance was 103,000 words. After two revisions (and it's not done yet) it's about 91K. The deletions? Mostly back story, LOL. As Debs said, it's painful to kill your darlings, but so necessary.


Linda Banche said...

In my current WIP, I started with backstory. Then I went back to rewrite, and rearranged everything and put most of the backstory in the middle. Doing it this way added an element of mystery to the story that it didn't have before. Yup, they're right when they tell you to put the backstory later.

Kaye Manro said...

Thanks to everyone for the great responses to dumping! It's good to know we aren't alone in this and can work our way through it.