As a self-professed reality TV viewer (see last Sunday's post for full disclosure), I watched a famous cheftesant contest last week. The person who went home because of a bad biscuit uttered the profound words "You live and die by the biscuits." His, in this case, had saggy, soggy middles, even though the top and bottom were gloriously golden. What had happened?
One of the judges explained that, for biscuits to be done right, the butter must be ice-cold, and cut into small chunks, not creamed, into the flour mixture. Then, during baking, these tiny chunks of butter melt, allowing for the biscuits to rise properly. I'm not enough of a baker to know if this is, in fact, correct, but it sounded logical. This particular chef obviously had creamed his butter instead of chunking it.
So what does a baking lesson have to do with writing? Allow me to explain.
Last summer, I attended a workshop with Margie Lawson. While the workshop as a whole was kind of all over the place, I did pick up one image that has stuck with me. She said to write each character's backstory in a series of bullet points and pretend you copied them onto a sheet of glass. You then drop the glass, breaking the points into little chunks of story and insert them, one at a time, into your manuscript. If you add in too much backstory at once--in other words, creaming it into the dough that is your story, you end up with a saggy, soggy, middle.
Every time I'm writing a story now, and attempting to insert some backstory to help the reader find out what makes my characters tick, I remember the image of the backstory on glass and only insert enough of a chunk at a time to tease the reader into wanting to learn more. At least I hope that will be what happens. After all, you live and die by the biscuits.