Balancing the need for back story and the need for clarity in a work of fiction can be more than delicate–it can be frustrating. I’m currently running a novella 5,000 words at a time through my new critique group. Though the novella uses the characters I’ve introduced in Blood Vengeance and Spy Flash, I wanted the novella to stand alone, i.e., someone who hasn’t read the other books could read the novella and know exactly what was going on.
That means sprinkling in some expository detail and back story so the reader has context. Turns out I overdid it a bit. I wrote about a page and a half, mostly dialogue, about an event which had happened in a previous short story. The critiquers liked it, found it intriguing, and assumed it would have some significance later in the novella. Oops.
My initial inclination was that the reader needed this amount of detail to move on. What I didn’t want to do is leave open questions which would hinder someone from reading further, but it turns out the readers got tripped up on the details. Not just tripped up–that amount of back story started them down a path which has nothing to do with the story I’m telling in the novella.
After some chat about how to address this, one person suggested that I simply remove the detail, allude to the event, then move on. I wasn’t sure that would work, and I thought about it for a couple of days. Then, last night I sat down and edited that scene. A page and a half of exposition and back story I edited down to three lines, and, lo and behold, it worked. Less sometimes is more.
One of the challenges in using a photo prompt to inspire a story is when the photo is of an inanimate object, or objects, in a mundane setting. When I first saw the Friday Fictioneers prompt on Wednesday, I thought, well, what do I make of this? On Thursday, I took another look, and a unique point of view came to me. So, let me know what you think of “Innocent Bystander.” As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop-down list.