Reply To: Student: Ellen Gilman Homework Thread

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Linnea Sinclair

this time  it sunk in in terms of backstory.  I took it to mean that I could have characters maybe sitting around talking and revealing backstory so that it doesn’t come out like a dump.

Thousands of ways. We’ll touch on a few so as not to make every crazy.

It all depends on WHAT information you need to come out in dialogue. I learned how to do this as a private investigator years ago and, before that, as an investigative reporter, years before that. If anyone has raised children, you know how to do this as well. You just never thought of applying it to your stories.

One solid trick most PIs and reporters know is the natural tendency of people to CLAM UP when asked a question directly (especially if it’s sensitive info or something they don’t want to admit) but humans will almost always CORRECT MISINFORMATION.

So, back in the days when we were “serving process” (that is, delivering legal papers, like a summons to appear in court or notice of a lawsuit),  to someone who did NOT want to be “served,” by law (in FL) the first thing we had to do was confirm identity (so you don’t “serve” the wrong person). Most people avoiding “service” KNOW that. So if I, intrepid PI gal, walk up to YOU, Ellen, and I know you probably don’t want to have to accept (be served) these legal papers, if I ask, “Oh, are you Ellen Gilman?”, you’re going to LIE because you don’t want to have to appear in court. Follow that? So what I’d do is act super friendly and go, “Hey Eileen! Dang, girl, it’s been at least ten years. What’s shakin’, bacon?”

And you’ll answer…”No, sorry, I’m Ellen, not Eileen.”

And I’ll look all wide-eyed and go, “Dang, girl, you look just like Eileen Milman.”

And you’ll laugh and go, “I’m not, but close. I’m Ellen Gilman.”

And I’d shove the court papers at you and go, “Thank you very much, you’ve been served.”

Humans almost always CORRECT misinformation. The waitress asks, “Did you order the cheeseburger rare?” You’re going to correct her. “No, I ordered the grilled cheese on rye.”

Let’s translate that to fiction.

What bit of backstory do you need the reader to know about without info dumping it into the scene? Who is the character who HOLDS that tidbit that you need her to admit knowledge of? What’s that character’s personality/weakness?

Let’s go back to one of your stories with the nefarious dog breeder, Betsy. She bred dogs for a living but ended up with merle puppies (who are blind, yes?) so she couldn’t sell or show them. I think you’d designed her as a bit of a nasty person, pushy, self-centered (and if not, then we’re going with this anyway as an example). That kind of person would often not want to appear ignorant. In fact, they might excel at being a know-it-all. So if you needed your heroine to trap Betsy into admitting knowledge of the merle medical problems in breeding, you’d simply have to structure a scene–and it could totally be in a coffee shop–where another character “traps” Betsy by pretending to believe that Betsy doesn’t KNOW ANYTHING about breeding dogs, and then not only proceeds to lecture Betsy about dogs and breeding but might even throw in something factually incorrect (like–winging it here, Ellen) merle puppies only happen if they’re born on a Tuesday. (Yeah, ridiculous.) At which point Betsy gets her knickers in a knot and sits up straight and says, “You stupid oaf! You know nothing about breeding dogs. I know all about it. This is how a merle happens [fill in with the actual information].” And while Betsy is gloating over how she’s gotten the upper hand of stupid person, she has, in fact, incriminated herself.

AND you’ve educated the reader into that bit of data that any other way would be an encyclopedia info dump.

Clear as mud?

If you want to have the backstory about Mortimer’s evil auntie revealed without an info dump, have another character sit down in the coffee shop with Mort and Petunia and make (deliberately untrue) statements about how wonderful Auntie Adelaide was… and let Mort jump in and correct her and spill the beans about something only Mort would know.

Getting the idea? Does this help?

//Interstellar Adventure Infused with Romance//


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