How Do You Give Readers Background Information?
All my books seem to have a character like Teach, my learned con man from ‘Daughter Am I,’ who tends to be a lecturer. The hardest part of editing that particular book was to take out everything that wasn’t essential to understanding the story.
I worry that Teach’s talk about the history of gold is a bit much, but there is no way to understand why the gold was buried without understanding the history of the era. I did try to space the information to add a bit of suspense at times or to offer a respite from the action at other times.
For Light Bringer, I had to present various conspiracy theories, and instead of having a character like Teach to “teach” the theories, I created a discussion group, each member of which believed a different theory and vociferously defended it while denigrating what the others believed. It was a fun way to present the information without an extended information dump.
Here are some responses from other authors about giving readers the background information they need. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .
From an interview with Donna Galanti, Author of “A Human Element”
I try to tease them with only a few descriptive details of backstory and setting as I go along. Give them only what they need at the time. Readers want to feel smart.
They like to fill in the blanks, as long as there aren’t too many blanks. I try and look at all backstory and gauge if it serves the story. If it doesn’t out it goes. By introducing questions early on with giving just enough information to keep the story going, we involve the reader, take them along for the ride, and…build suspense. Hopefully!
From an interview with Sam Lopez, author of “Dead Sea”
Disputes between characters can provide helpful information but if there is no conflict, then sometimes you just have to spell out what needs saying.
What about you? How do you deal with exposition and give readers the background information they need?