Oh, how I wish I could remember where I read this, because it’s maybe the best practical, really specific writing advice I’ve ever read. If anyone out there knows where this came from, PLEASE tell me. If by some miracle of the interwebz the person who wrote it sees this, please let me know. I want to credit you, and possibly kiss you if you’re into that kind of thing.
Maybe a year ago I was mooching around online, link hopping through various blogs and writing sites. I came across a thing on backstory that has stuck with me since and which I’m conscious of every time I sit down with my beloved Scrivener.
I’m haunted by the dreaded infodump, where you cram a whole book’s worth of worldbuilding into a few clumsy pages of narrative, but it’s hard to think of how to avoid it. This thing I read (WILD paraphrasing to follow) said to picture my backstory as a sheet of glass. It’s the window into the world I’m creating. Now, take that sheet of glass and smash it over my manuscript. Let shards litter the pages from beginning to end. Break up any big chunks that remain.
I became so enamored with this way of looking at it while writing CODA that on many occasions, a close friend would gchat me to ask how things were going and I’d say, “Oh, you know, just smashing the glass.” Code for, “Please, writing gods, do not let me shove the CODA-verse down readers’ throats in undigestible lumps.”
I hope I haven’t. I hope I never do, in any world I create.
To add my own thoughts to this, sometimes the glass will be stained, a prism of color. Sometimes it’ll have ripples, or bubbles, or be thicker at the bottom than the top. (A phenomenon that occurs in very, very old windows, from back when glassmaking techniques were different. This may be getting too technical. I’m nothing if not skilled at stretching a metaphor far beyond reasonable limits.) Anyway, it’s my world. Its backstory will be uniquely my own, with idiosyncrasies only I could come up with.
Just smash it up. And if I can’t, if there’s a place where it’s truly necessary to have a big, unbroken sheet, Windex the hell out of it.