Avoid dumping backfill into your story

Sometimes to keep a story moving forward, background information must be given. When this information interrupts the story flow, it is referred to as backfill.

Depending on the approach use to provide backfill, this can be a story killer. That’s because most forms of backfill amount to exposition.

Among the types of backfill that appear in stories are:
• Flashbacks – Sometimes significant, formative events from the character’s past can be told dramatically between scenes in the current story line.
• Dream sequence – To reveal information about characters’ true nature or a character’s emotional state, such as their fears, dreams might be used dramatically to present symbols and clues to readers.
• Explanation to an ignorant character – When a character is introduced into a story, sometimes he must be caught up on what’s going on. To resolve that, another character summarizes for him what has occurred so far.
• Lecture – Often to provide readers with the information needed so they can understand how a problem will be solved, one character will provide another one (a reader surrogate) with the encyclopedia-like information.

Virtually all of these backfill methods ought to be avoided or at least used sparingly. The explanation to an ignorant character and the lecture really are nothing more than info dumps. The dream sequence is becoming cliché, and rarely do people dream as authors describe their characters dreaming, especially when trying to force symbolism upon the scene. A flashback is really the only acceptable way to provide backfill, but if used in excess it can lose its effectiveness and stress the story’s forward momentum.