Donald Maass on Exposition and Backstory (from THE FIRE IN FICTION)
Excerpts from Chapter 8, “Tension All the Time,” in The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
How do you handle exposition? Are there passages of interior monologue in your manuscript that are just taking up space? If there are, you can cut them, or possibly you can dig deeper into your character at this moment in the story and find inside of him contradictions, dilemmas, opposing impulses, and clashing ideas that keep us in suspense.
To put it another way, exposition is an opportunity not to enhance the dangers of the plot (exposition doesn’t do that) but to put your characters’ hearts and minds in peril. Remember, though, that true tension in exposition comes not from circular worry or repetitive turmoil; it springs from emotions in conflict and ideas at war.
(quoted from page 204)
Maass on Backstory:
Backstory is the bane of virtually all manuscripts. Authors imagine that readers need, even want, a certain amount of filling in. I can see why they believe that. It starts with critique groups in which writers hear comments such as, “I love this character! You need to tell me more about her!” Yes, the author does. But not right away. As they say in the theater, make ’em wait. Later in the novel backstory can become a revelation; in the first chapter it always bogs things down.
(quoted from page 208)
About the book:
Discover the Difference Between a So-So Manuscript and a Novel Readers Can’t Forget
We’ve all read them: novels by our favorite authors that disappoint. Uninspired and lifeless, we wonder what happened. Was the author in a hurry? Did she have a bad year? Has he lost interest altogether?
Something similar is true of a great many unpublished manuscripts. They are okay stories that never take flight. They don’t grip the imagination, let alone the heart. They merit only a shrug and a polite dismissal by agents and editors.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In The Fire in Fiction, successful literary agent and author Donald Maass shows you not only how to infuse your story with deep conviction and fiery passion, but how to do it over and over again.
Maass, Donald. “Tension All the Time” in The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. 188–231. Print.
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