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.
five things all writers must learn…
….to create very good stories.
Many of these things come from my own personal observations and experience and much of what I say is probably repeats of previous posts.
1.) Editing. Editing is the basis of all good books. in fact, I think it is the backbone of good writing. It’s all fine and good if you can write something down on paper. It’s better if you do the extra step (or two, or three, or ten, depending on how you edit) and edit what you write.
2.) Listening to characters: This is an art, and a challenge. You know those stories where the characters (without mental disorders) suddenly start acting strange and awkward? It kinda hits you like, “What on EArth?” Well… that’s because the author didn’t really listen to the character.
In all honesty, I don’t know how to give you a step-by-step instructions as to how to listen to your characters. This (like everything else all my list) takes practice. Once you learn how to do it well, you might find all sorts of information, like, say, one character had a crush on another character but didn’t want to propose to court her because of three certain reasons. It adds depth to the character. But most important, it keeps the reader from looking at you strange.
3.) The good plot: As a new writer, everything that pops into your head sounds awesome. In all honesty, I would never have the time to write down EVERYTHING that I come up with as plots, even if I wrote constantly. One thing that a writer must learn is how to take a plot and decided whether to a) write it, b) save it for something else (meaning it’s okay but not really that good) or C) discard it completely. This again takes practice because you need to know partly what you can write well and what you really kinda stink at.
4.) Observing: Observe everything. As both an author and an artist, I do that. Observe how people interact. Observe character differences. Observe what makes people tick, motivations, fears. How things look, smell, feel, sound. Everything. YOu need it for later character development and description.
Besides observing people and things, observe how people write. I’m not saying to copy one author’s particular style (although, in honesty, I can’t see style differences much.). I’m just saying to notice how the author writes what he/she wants to say. How do they describe things? How do they stick in information? How do they reveal characters?
5.) Avoiding the Infodump: Infordumps = Badbadbad. Infodumps are when you explain everything all at once and are very common in fantasy stories actually. You might spend six pages about the war or five pages on the transportation system or two pages on this guy’s past. Avoid these like the plague.
If you must use them, give small, bite size pieces infrequently. Maybe you can explain on page three why she rides a bike everywhere and then on page 13 about why she doesn’t like any of the clothes at Wal*mart and why she wears dresses all the time. Then maybe on page 16 about how she became enlisted in the secret spy agency. Who knows? But small pieces.
And one more bit of advice: edit. I know I said it before but I’m saying it again. Every single other thing you can improve in your story if you edit the story. Everything you write can be undone. But it will not be undone if you do not edit.