Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Lovely Egg Salad Sandwich

First, I must tell you about an amazing contest over at Editorial Ass! Moonrat is celebrating the 500,000th blogviewing, by giving away a 20-page critique of your WIP! Go there! Now!

OK, back to my post...

I have this little joke that I make, about an egg salad sandwich. I think it is the height of hilarity, but then I remember that no one really has any idea what I'm talking about or why I'm cracking up. The problem is, it's an inside joke-- one that came about from a real circumstance, got blown up into a joke among friends, and then I forget that not everyone was there. And without the backstory, it just isn't as funny.

(Keep in mind that this may actually be funnier if you were there...)
One day, many years ago, hubby Matt was telling someone about the egg salad sandwich he ate for lunch. It wasn't exciting, it wasn't anything special, and he was as bored talking about it as the other person was listening to him prattle on about egg salad sandwiches. So he stopped. In the middle of the sentence, he just stopped and wondered out loud why the @#)! he was talking about egg salad sandwiches. The other person agreed.

So these days, whenever someone is talking our ears off about THE most boring subject ever, we just say, "I had an egg salad sandwich..." (and sometimes we mention the creamy mayonnaise, or the fluffy bread, or another boring detail)
Hilarious to us, but probably confusing to others.
I do have to congratulate Valerie Geary for getting the joke when I used it to describe my feelings toward most Twitter posts, but for the most part, it confuses people.
Which brings me to my writing-related point: making sure there is nothing in my WIP that is an inside joke.
When you cut and paste and rework and rewrite as much as we all do, a lot of wordy backstory gets edited out. BUT BEWARE! If you cut all that backstory, you may do it at the expense of clarity. This is probably the best reason to use Betas (or at least have other eyes reading your WIP), because they can spot things you can't-- namely, when you've removed a chunk of backstory which has left your character doing something that doesn't make sense. You don't notice it yourself because it is like the egg salad sandwich. You have all the context and backstory in your head, but remember, your reader wasn't there. So drop the inside jokes! Or for crying out loud, at least explain them!


Valerie Geary said...

Favorite post of the night. A writing analogy made up of boiled eggs and mayonnaise (that totally, awesomely rhymed!). It really doesn't get much better. Tip-o-the-hat to you. (And if this doesn't make sense... blame it on the extra bit of wine I had with dinner....:D)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Ohhh... I'd never thought of backstory as an inside joke, but you're totally right. I wonder if most people err on the side of inside jokes (ignore that repetition) or if they have too much, making a mushy story?

yokohamamama said...

I guess that's why I was confused by editors telling you to re-work and cut out all the backstory at the beginning (the original ch. 1, with the sentence mom and I like so much:)). It seemed fine to me (not that I'm biased or anything...), but maybe I like stories that start out that way. Don't most of James Michner's books start with a bunch of backstory (like the geographical history of the area that's going to be important waaaay later in the book)? Certainly it seems that if you cut out all the backstory at the beginning, you'd have to be very careful to weave bits important to understanding what's going on back in. I guess that's what good editors do for you--point out all those continuity errors that crop up from zealous cutting. Gambare!

Aubrie said...

This is a good point! And very funny. I'm the other way around. I have to be more subtle instead of telling everyone everything right up front. :)

Lisa and Laura said...

Twitter is full of egg salad sandwiches. Consequently, I really want one now that I've read this blog post. Fluffy white bread and creamy mayo? YUM.

Ally said...

I love egg salad and the idea of it on white bead sounds even better. I love eggs served any way, shape or form. On that note, time to make breakfast.

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Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great advice about having beta readers to make sure you haven't cut out too much necessary backstory. I made that mistake before. Fortunately my old crit partners pointed it out.

sweetsue said...

I love inside jokes! My boyfriend and I have this look we give each other when someone is boring us, it's just this quick sidelong glance at each other. I love these moments because I know we will have something to talk about on the ride home.