The setting: In the operating room. A manuscript autopsy is being performed by the eminent Dr. Editor and her ever-faithful helper, Editorial Intern. Immediate cause of death has been determined to be an acute case of Dullitis – the covers of the manuscript were too far apart. Contributing causes are slowly being uncovered in this autopsy, the latest of which is Fluffitis and Backstoryosis.
Editorial Intern: Fluffitis and Backstoryosis? I’m not familiar with these terms, Dr. Editor.
Dr. Editor: Unfortunately Fluff and Backstory are the number one killers of all manuscripts because they tend to team up and destroy all the healthy writing. The result is that the reader falls asleep due to terminal boredom and/or confusion. I’ve seen cases where the backstory was so severe that I forgot the original plot. Those are the worst, and we normally isolate those in the EPC Unit because they’re so infectious.
Editorial Intern: EPC Unit?
Dr. Editor: Eternal Pile of Crap. The only way to circumvent Fluff and Backstory is to put them on a severe diet.
Editorial Intern: What exactly is Fluff?
Dr. Editor: Fluff is the little inconsequential stuff that, when properly done, can round out a chapter or a character very nicely but has nothing to do with the plot. For example, it’s the quick sidebar to explain that the hopelessly rich Margarita Von Aldenbald was nicknamed Lampie during a inebriated foray into a trucker bar where she commenced to dancing on the tables wearing nothing but a lampshade while singing “I’m An Oscar Meyer Wiener.” It goes to development and adding richness to the story.
Editorial Intern: But?
Dr. Editor: But overdo Fluff, and you veer the train off the tracks. And I see this all too often among new manuscripts who are so in love with their own writing that they forget they have a story to tell. Now, if Fluff isn’t too overdone, we’re normally lucky enough to edit it out with a surgical strike of our mighty red pens. If it’s metastasized throughout the entire manuscript, the standard medical procedure is to rip the guts out of the manuscript and rebuild it. I liken it to eating a Hershey bar after it’s fallen in the gutter – I could do it, but why? I just throw it away and get another one. So goes it with the overfluffed manuscript. There are always other manuscripts waiting to be read.
Editorial Intern: So what about Backstory?
Dr. Editor: Same type of atrocities going on with Backstory and can have the effect of a bucket of warm spit. Like Fluff, Backstory is good in small doses. Backstory, when done properly, lends necessary background to a character or a situation in order for the story to progress. It’s a small trip back in time.
Editorial Intern: Doctor, how will I recognize Backstory?
Dr. Editor: Let’s say that you see a story that has pink Martians threatening to invade, and the only person who can save Earth is the head cheerleader from Bucktooth High. She’s discovered that her sneezes are toxic to the little pink Martians. Problem is, every time she sneezes part of her luxurious blond hair falls out, so she has this dilemma: sneeze and save the world, don’t sneeze and keep her hair. There’s your action and your story. Now, a tiny bit of Backstory could detail how she was teased as a kid because her hair was a ratty mess until she hit puberty when it grew in thick and became the envy of every girl on campus. Even though it’s backstory, it goes to motive and character development, and explains why she’s so freaked about sneezing. This is effective backstory.
However, if the Backstory yammers on about how Tommy Zitface used to pop her bra strap as his way of telling her he had a mad crush on her and wanted to take her to the Dance With a Dog Social that Friday night, now you’re treading into Who Gives a Rat’s Hiney land. It has nothing to do with the plot at hand and adds zip to the story.
As with Fluff, we treat Backstory the same way if it hasn’t metastasized too much. We excise the tumor with a surgical strike with our mighty red pens. Luckily, the bleeding is normally minimal. But also like Fluff, if it’s spread itself throughout the entire manuscript, we normally have to pronounce it Dead on Arrival. And we always, always, always attach a Do Not Resuscitate order to it.
Editorial Intern: So Fluff and Backstory are lethal.
Dr. Editor: Oh my yes. I’ve seen them kill the tension of a story many times. I’ve read stories where the tension of a scene had me on the edge of my seat. Then Backstory or Fluff comes along and kills every bit of it. And what’s really sad is that the manuscript has built in antibodies that are often ignored.
Editorial Intern: Antibodies? So there’s actually hope.
Dr. Editor: Absolutely. The Intent antibody lurks inside every single manuscript and is designed to kill anything that ruins a story. Intent is always asking, “What are you trying to say? What is your intent? What’s the point of this sentence, this chapter?”
You see, every line and every chapter must have a reason for being there, and Intent works in the background much like the anti virus program on our computers. It pops up whenever Fluff and Backstory rear their ugly heads and signals a warning sign. But, alas, just like the popups on our computers, we turn them off all too often because they’re irritating. The result is that Fluff and Backstory are free to wield their damage.
Editorial Intern: And that results in…
Dr. Editor: Yes. The dreaded Rejection Death Notice.
Editorial Intern: So Fluff and Backstory is what killed this manuscript, right, Dr. Editor?
Dr. Editor: I’m not sure. The autopsy isn’t completed yet. Ah ha, see? Look there, past the sentence fragment and misplaced story arc…I think I see…oh dear, Dialogal tagococcus…