suffocating under all that info
Now, for some writers, this is a basic topic, and for others, this is something difficult to understand, and even more difficult to avoid.
We take all of our time working very carefully, building backgrounds of characters, histories of various places and objects, and general mannerisms people use in our current novel. Then, of course, we want to share all of our brilliant information.
What do we do? We decide to write it in. In general, writers put this information in the beginning of their story.
Now, most any writer who has read much of anything writing or studied it in school understands the concept of having a captivating beginning. So, what sometimes happens is we have a story like this:
Martie ran down the alley, dodging mud holes and rotting garbage alike. Her heart beat so strongly in her chest that it felt like she might die. She gasped for air in strangled gasps, barely able to get enough. In her hand, she still carried the gun, clutching it like a lifeline. Something in the back of her mind told her that if anyone saw her, with the gun in her hand and the blood on her shirt, they would immediately call the police, but she could not seem to get rid of either. Instead, she ran, just like she always did.
Or maybe she hadn’t always run. As a child, she lived in the exact same apartment in the exact same area of town. She always went to the exact same school until she graduated one and could move up to the next. Even in college, she never jumped around from one to the next, or even one degree to the next, always sticking with what she had decided upon when she first began. It never seemed right to change.
She never was interested in running while in higshchool, opting for the more passive hobbies of drawing. Her dormroom was full of boxes upon boxes of sketchbooks full of everything she had scribbled down to pass the time. Many of them were good, some worth selling. A few she had sold.
But all this came to an end five months ago….
Five pages later, we finally get back to Martie running through the alleys, losing the reader on page three, if we are lucky.
This, my friend, is called an infodump by most people. It may occur in any part of the book, at any period, describing anything. The biggest problem with them is that they are generally long, boring, and usually not needed.
Wait! What am I to do if I can’t do this? How am I suppose to tell my reader anything about the beautiful world I created?
It’s called bite-sized pieces. One little bite-sized piece at a time.
First of all, you need to learn to recognize what an info dump is. They do generally appear at the beginning of the story, so that is usually a good place to look. This is very, very, very hard to do. I thought that this one novel I wrote had no real obvious info dump. When I let some other people read it, they suddenly said that, “Um, BTW, this part where you explain about how good of a pilot Shad is, that’s an infodump.” i honestly had no clue.
Secondly, you need to learn to evaluate logically if you need that infodump at that exact moment. Really, on page 1 with the above example, do I really need to go into the whole history of Martie’s life, hobbies, ect? Obviously, no. Do I really need to go into a whole history of Shad being main pilot by seventeen, when most people don’t even get their license until 23 or so on page 3? No.
The secret then is to share what you know in small snatches of information. This is sometimes difficult, sometimes easy. I tend to stick some of it in dialogue, but you don’t want to have Bob tell Mary what Bob and Mary have been going through for the last five months. Instead, you can have Bob run into one of his buddies from highschool and the buddy asks him how he’s doing and Bob can then explain everything, without it being obvious. (However, if this buddy does not play a role in the story, you don’t want to do that. Keep in mind that every scene needs a purpose.
I also might slip a sentence or two here or there, just to explain an action.
In general, I tend to stay with one thought when sharing information. And one tiny thought at that. It might be as large as three paragraphs but if it’ll be much longer than a page, maybe you should avoid doing that whole thing in one sitting.
Two things to keep in mind about the reader. One is that, although the reader might like your book, if he/she finds an infodump, there is a 50/50 change he/she will merely skip over it to the more interesting parts.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, you might not realize that the reader doesn’t know everything that you know. If you remove the infodump, the important information still has to be communicated to the reader, or else, you’ll leave the reader confused and frustrated. (I felt so confused when reading one book.) Keep this in mind. In Shad, I have a lot of abbrivations because the sweepers would talk like that. I still need to be able to tell the reader what SSD is and what SCL is, ZT, SRIS, FSR, ect, without listing them all off. This is challenging.
However, if you do manage to complete it to that point, then you might actually have a pretty decent story.