Leap of Space, by Sharon T. Rose (6:04)

IOD-LeapOfSpaceToday we see that telling backstory is not the same as telling story, and eventually, the reader wants you to get on with the show.

What I gleaned about the story: An ugly alien is sad about being ugly. And alien.

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WTF #1: Runners, to your exposition guns!

Analysis: Starting a book with detailed exposition is certainly not a story-telling crime, but it is a handicap when it comes to establishing early immersion. To me, as a reader, this kind of start always comes across as dry, detail-laden, and confusing. Like a high-school history lecture, and for the same reasons. Because, like most high-school students, I don’t have enough experience of the world being discussed to put all those facts and figures into context. So instead, they just roll around in my head, careening into each other and creating chaos, like info-factoid bumper-cars.

But as any history teacher will tell you, if you want the kids to pay attention, give them a historical figure they can relate to, first. And then once they’ve invested in that person, they’ll actually want to know about the forces that shaped his or her life, because now they have a lens that will make those forces meaningful.

WTF #2: The conspicuous body inventory

Analysis: One of the challenges of making the POV character non-human is that it can be difficult to find a reason to describe the new creature’s physiology to a human reader. Unfortunately, wiping a table in a bar does not strike me as sufficient motive, but that’s what Jregli the Yerbran does. I understand that she sees herself as ugly, but even so, her body is entirely familiar to her. She would not consciously think her way through a point-by-point inventory of the general features of her kind, along with her own particular shortcomings in regards to them. She wouldn’t have to. Because she already knows them.

The way to handle such things, IMO, is to find somebody else to explain it to. Somebody for whom both the normal Yerbran body plan, and Jregli’s deviations from it, may not be common knowledge. Like maybe an actual human in the bar. Some old regular, who lifts his head off the table and sloshes a half-empty bottle above himself, saying, “Hey, Jregli! How come you keep takin’ the big mirror down, huh? This fine wreck of a human being you see me crafting before you is a work of freakin’ art! An’ I just wanna watch the whole show. You know? In realtime. As it happens. So I wanna know… Whadda you got against mirrors?”

WTF #3: Chapter 2: More backstory

Analysis: Having swallowed the wall of exposition in Chapter 1, I was looking forward to moving on with the actual story. But unfortunately, now it was time for the mental review of “How I came to be here.” Again, nobody thinks that way. And worse, it’s not actually telling me a story. It’s telling me about a story. The one that happened before I got here.

I tell my writing students to think of backstory like this: Suppose you’ve invited a new friend to come visit you at your cottage. You want him to have a good time, relax, blow off some steam, and just forget about the city for a while. Do you A) greet him at his car waving a copy of the land title and survey map? B) Get out the slide show explaining how your family came to own this property through a series of mortgage foreclosures and tax scams in the roaring 20s? Or C) hand him a beer and a fishing rod and take him down to the dock?

I’ll give you a hint: only one of those answers has anything to do with why he came here in the first place. And the other two make for great conversations that you can drop in after everybody is fully sozzled, and has created a connection to the place that makes its history actually meaningful. If you wait until then, the dry facts will actually seem like fun. :-)

The Journeyman, by Michael Alan Peck (40:00)
Protégée, by James Gawley (40:00)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.