If you’ve read any of the traditional Utopian novels (a genre named after the first, the novel, Utopia, written in 1516 by Sir Thomas More), or any of the traditional Dystopian novels, you will recall that a major issue, especially for the Utopias, is the person who finds him- or herself in one, often has a guide who explains everything… and the explanations just don’t work dramatically.
Why not? Because people don’t really stand around explaining things to each other. Would some future person stand beside another future person and say, “Isn’t life wonderful now that all meals are prepared in underground kitchens and transported via the quantum net directly to our tables?” And the other person would hardly say, “Yes! And soon the machines at Q-World will begin to transmit food directly into our bodies. We’ll never have to interrupt our daily pleasure to eat!”
If you grew up in a world that always had microwave ovens you certainly wouldn’t think them in any way unique. And if you were around when they became the norm in almost every kitchen, even you have long ago gotten over the amazement of fast-cooked, or reheated foods. “Oh, yes, Mother! Isn’t it wonderful that with our Radar Range we never eat ‘leftovers’ now? All food is fresh and hot whenever we want it!”
You may be getting an inkling that what I’m getting at works for any kind of theme where you have back story to ladle out little by little.
Light go on yet? A partner. A side-kick, or as I like to do, an inner voice with some serious insights. You can always have your character self-narrate, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Without a listener, someone to interact with, things get a little forced.
So, this is the point. Flashing back to explain what is going on moves your story in the wrong direction. You want it to go forward, each and every time. You want back story to be portioned out as part of the forward movement, or a brief reminiscence. And one way to do that is to have a partner who isn’t “in the know”… someone who can ask for clarification when you think the reader might need it.
Is this the only way to handle it?
Heavens, no. But it is an easy way, a good way.
Today’s challenge is two-fold: Find a different way to handle back story without falling into prologue world, or flashbacks. Find a way, and express it in a few paragraphs.
The second part is to try using a partner, a side-kick, or an inner voice to get the job done. Try these out, see if they work for you… or better yet, invent something else entirely.