Writing Through the Backfill: The Swimming Pool Theory

At some point in your story, your readers will require backfill, also known as expository details. You’ll need to describe the characters, explain the history of a location, or establish a relationship. But how do you include this information without slowing the plot so much that your readers become disinterested? 

First, I ask, “Is this part even necessary?” If the answer is yes, and the rest of your story won’t make sense without it, don’t fear, there is a way to include this information while still engaging the reader. 

Here’s how you can approach it with The Swimming Pool Theory:

Consider your story like a kick off the sidewall in a swimming pool, pushing off to the deep end, propelling your narrative forward. If you want your readers to float past the backfill of your story, loaded with descriptions and historical context, you need to first create momentum. 

This push should come as an intriguing moment in the story: a moment of intensity, a moment where a problem occurs, a defining turning point, or a moment where something surprising was said. These moments pose new questions that must be answered and powered by curiosity, the readers will continue reading, desperate to discover.

This allows you to maintain the tension while including backfill, essential but less exciting information. These are information that readers need but they might not want to continue reading if it was in the first paragraph. These information are not hooks, but rather promises. You are now making a promise that if they swim through all this exposition, there will be a payoff. They will learn the answer. 

Writing is all about choosing what details to share and when to share them. By recognizing how your story ebbs and flows, you can weave a tale that is well-paced and enjoyable the whole way through, also known as a page-turner

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Instead of giving out information as it happens, switch it around. Switch paragraphs, scenes, and even chapters around. If you’re ever in an editing rut, and you’re not sure what to look for, look at what’s kicking your story off the wall in the swimming pool. Feel for how far that momentum will take the readers and decide when you need another intriguing scene to kick forward. And if you don’t have enough of these key moments pushing your readers along, that means you’ll have to write it. 

Backfill is necessary for a story, especially if you’re world-building. However, if all you give them are details, they are going to lose interest. So think of your story as being in a pool, how will you push off to the deep end? 

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