280-word fragment // Too much telling for a background?

Flaviosky

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Hello community!

It's been a while since I posted something here, but I wanted to share a fragment that has me wondering if it's too much telling or if it may work as a piece of background for one of the most important characters of my WIP.

Context: Medieval fantasy, long trip using a wagon pulled by horses. It's night, campfire, Natalie is the Diane's bodyguard and childhood friend. Diane is the princess that went to exile after her kingdom was taken over. Rina and Philippe are not important for the scene.

Thank you very much for your support.

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Rina and Philippe left Natalie over the fire and went to sleep. Now that she was alone, Natalie bent forward, her shoulders shuddered, her hands started to tremble strongly and tears rolled down her stiff face.

I can’t let anyone to worry about me, I must be strong, always.

Her oath was to protect Diane, since she was little she was part of the royal family, always by her side every time she fell while playing, always there even in Diane’s antics. She never met her own parents, the Royal Guard and the Scarlet Order often recruited boys and girls from the orphanage when they became too grown up to have a chance of being adopted, but those were the kids with luck, as the majority of the too-old kids would spend the rest of their lives in there, if they didn’t escape first.

They were always like sisters, her sweet pink eyes and her obedient nature captivated Queen Irene when they visited the child’s barracks to pick who would be Diane’s partner, guardian and friend, and they got along quite quickly. Natalie was always there to help Diane in a fight, to back her version every time she had an argument with her older brother, and to help her study law and mathematics as Diane was getting ready to become queen one day. The trust King Albert and Queen Irene deposited on her was absolute, with her word often having more weight than even Diane’s.

...I failed. I was on my knees, tasting and breathing my own blood, with my lips and throat burnt, with strength left barely to breathe, while Diane was being battered. My whole life had a purpose, to protect her, and I failed.
 

Wayne Mack

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Including background information is hard and it is often difficult to know how much of what one knows as an author is really important to the reader. I feel like paragraphs 3 and 4 describe an interesting flashback, but there are far too many details jammed into two paragraphs. This might be better expanded into several pages to allow the reader a little more time to digest all the information. What I find a little more problematic, is the placement of the flashback; it does not appear to be supporting the lead in and follow up of "her shoulders shuddered" and "I failed." I didn't feel that I gained any information on why Natalie was feeling the way she did from the middle section. Perhaps move the back story portion to a different location (and expand it), and instead focus on why the character is feeling the way she does.
 

sule

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I agree with Wayne that it feels a little too rushed; tastes differ among readers, but I felt giving the flashback a couple more paragraphs to breathe wouldn't have been too long - expand it into a mini-scene, maybe, and see how it feels?

Sidenote:
Rina and Philippe left Natalie over the fire and went to sleep.
This sounded to me like they were cooking Natalie.
 

OuttaInc

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Personally I don't think it's too much telling, especially if it comes after a series of quick, intense action scenes. A little bit of narrative exposition every now and then can help to slow down the pace and give the reader a much-needed break. Having said that, I agree with Wayne and sule that this backstory could probably be fleshed out more slowly over time rather than all in one sitting.

This sounded to me like they were cooking Natalie.
Me too.

Flaviosky, I envy your ability to write outside your native tongue (I'm assuming English is a second language?) so please don't take this as a criticism, because your command of English is excellent and I'm actually jealous. But there were a few phrases that jumped out as a little unusual: "...left Natalie over the fire..." "...her stiff face..." "I can't let anyone to worry about me..."

I wouldn't do anything about them right now because they aren't big issues and it's obvious to us what you mean. But later, have a native English speaker** help you pick out those one or two phrases that might stick out.

**happy to volunteer myself, especially if you're a native Spanish speaker because at some point I may need similar help going in the other direction ;)
 
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Yozh

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I like the storyline you are setting up here seems like good characters, the backstory is logical, and supports Natalie's emotional reaction in this scene.

However, I found the two paragraphs quoted below hard to read through:
Her oath was to protect Diane, since she was little she was part of the royal family, always by her side every time she fell while playing, always there even in Diane’s antics. She never met her own parents, the Royal Guard and the Scarlet Order often recruited boys and girls from the orphanage when they became too grown up to have a chance of being adopted, but those were the kids with luck, as the majority of the too-old kids would spend the rest of their lives in there, if they didn’t escape first.

They were always like sisters, her sweet pink eyes and her obedient nature captivated Queen Irene when they visited the child’s barracks to pick who would be Diane’s partner, guardian and friend, and they got along quite quickly. Natalie was always there to help Diane in a fight, to back her version every time she had an argument with her older brother, and to help her study law and mathematics as Diane was getting ready to become queen one day. The trust King Albert and Queen Irene deposited on her was absolute, with her word often having more weight than even Diane’s.

For one, you use a lot of pronouns without clear antecedents. For example, the first sentence uses "her" or "she" 5 times and as a reader I can't tell which refer to Diane and which to Natalie. E.g. was Nat sworn to protect Diane since Nat was little, or since Diane was little? Or were they both little at the same time, and maybe it would be better to say "since they were both little?"

In the second paragraph, the first clause of the first sentence starts off with "they" as the subject, and they seems to refer to "Natalie and Diane." But then the next clause talks about "her sweet pink eyes..." and I can't tell until reading further on if this refers to Natalie's eyes or Diane's. Then, in the same sentence, "they" is used apparently in reference to Queen Irene, and later used a third time to refer to....I'm not actually sure who "they" refers to in "They got along quickly." Could be either Nat and Queen Irene or Nat and Diane.

TLDR: good story obscured by too many pronouns referring to too many characters in overlong sentences. Break it down and clarify.
 

msstice

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Rina and Philippe are not important for the scene.

Rina and Philippe left Natalie over the fire and went to sleep
As long as Rina and Phillipe have been introduced before, this may be ok, but if there are two characters not important for the scene, it may be better not to have them mentioned by name. Also it sounded like Natalie was literally over the fire (i.e. being cooked) so that distracted me.
Perhaps open with When Natalie was alone she ...

Now, for the rest of the piece, I'm taking away that the body guard has failed to protect her charge, who was also a close friend, though of different station, and now the body guard is having feelings of guilt.

What is the purpose of this passage? Is it to introduce us to Natalie? Is Diane out of the picture? Is Natalie planning to rescue Diane? Is Natalie the main character? Is the history of her and Diane important?

This is character backstory, and when written out biographically like this can slow the pace and readers might struggle to remain engaged. If the background is important, it might be better to let it come out through something the character does, perhaps as part of a conversation, or part of some action.
 

Bowler1

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Rina and Philippe left Natalie over the fire and went to sleep. Now that she was alone, Natalie bent forward, her shoulders shuddered, her hands started to tremble strongly and tears rolled down her stiff face.

I can’t let anyone to worry about me, I must be strong, always.

Her oath was to protect Diane, since she was little she was part of the royal family, always by her side every time she fell while playing, always there even in Diane’s antics. She never met her own parents, the Royal Guard and the Scarlet Order often recruited boys and girls from the orphanage when they became too grown up to have a chance of being adopted, but those were the kids with luck, as the majority of the too-old kids would spend the rest of their lives in there, if they didn’t escape first.
A little long for me and leaving kids in an orphanage for life seemed silly and pointless to me, when they could be sent off farming or anything else when old enough - so a little loss of belief for me.

Her oath was to protect Diane, always by her side every time she fell while playing, always there even in Diane’s antics. She never met her own parents, the Royal Guard and the Scarlet Order often recruited boys and girls from the orphanage into a lifetime of service.
More or less the same, or not, what do you think?

They were always like sisters, her sweet pink eyes and her obedient nature captivated Queen Irene when they visited the child’s barracks to pick who would be Diane’s partner, guardian and friend, and they got along quite quickly. Natalie was always there to help Diane in a fight, to back her version every time she had an argument with her older brother, and to help her study law and mathematics as Diane was getting ready to become queen one day. The trust King Albert and Queen Irene deposited on her was absolute, with her word often having more weight than even Diane’s.
I wasn't sure what all this was about, was it a flash back or not, or info dumping. This left me more confused than informed.

...I failed. I was on my knees, tasting and breathing my own blood, with my lips and throat burnt, with strength left barely to breathe, while Diane was being battered. My whole life had a purpose, to protect her, and I failed.
Fine, and to the point.

Stick to a storyline and keep the plot moving. If there is internal conflict for a character that thinks they have failed stick to that to keep the emotion high. Wonder off into back story and you risk losing the pace and emotion you want to present. Clearly there are times when back story is needed, but this didn't feel like the right moment to me.

Sentence structure, over long in places and with they, Natalie and the queen being used which was a little confusing - all well covered above.

So yes too much telling - I think you knew this, and I would say trust yourself more and you'll be fine.
 

Flaviosky

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I posted this because the fragment bothered me and it felt weird. Gave it a rewrite and some well-placed dialogue gave the backstory I needed while leaving the emotion high for this moment.

Thanks everyone. You again enlighten my path.
 

Cthulhu.Science

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"Her oath was to protect Diane, since she was little..."

I read this phrase and when I completed the sentence I realized that you were not telling me that Diane was small of stature. Or maybe Natalie is very short. The use of pronouns makes it unclear who is little. Oh, nobody is. Maybe.
Also you are changing subject mid-sentence.
First half - Natalie's Oath.
Second half - the childhood relationship between Natalie and Diane.

I period instead of comma would correct all of this for me.

__________________________________________________
"She never met her own parents, the Royal Guard and the Scarlet Order often recruited boys and girls..."
Is Natalie a member of the Royale Guard, the Scarlet Order, both, neither? More society description This apparently relates to Natalie, the organization she is a member of and another organization.

You might want to look into the history of the Ottoman Empire regarding orphan children. (war captures in this case)

Devshirme

This system might provide a good launching point for the system within your world.

______________________________________________
These biographies are standard tropes in fiction, particularly fantasy. We are now learning about a person, a relationship, and a society. But this information is so much better told bit by bit as the story unfolds.

The excerpt does not let us know why Natalie is holding back tears. If this is early in the story it might be enough to know that Natalie's oath as a member of ________is to protect Diane. --- Or perhaps reorganize the idea. Natalie is a member of __________ . Her oath since childhood has been to protect Diane.

As the story progresses we can learn that the connection is much, much closer. Before we understand why this is the case we might see that some members of _____ treat Natalie with unusual deference. Others treat her with unusual disdain.

Eventually we learn that some treat her deferentially because she has the ear of the Queen and princess, others with disdain because Diane is the golden girl who gets more than everyone else in ________ and more than she deserves.

__________________
Just some thoughts
Interesting read. I am genuinely curious to know more.
 

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