Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Hazards of Info Dumping

Another writer and I were talking the other night and he asked me about a portion of his story he was struggling with. He wanted to make sure one of his character's point of view was included in the story in, but in an interesting way. What he read to me was well written, but it was a huge info dump. I hated to tell him that, but I have a real issue with info dumping in novels.

What is info dump?

Have you ever read a book where right in the middle of a scene, a ton of information is revealed through the character's thoughts. Everything from where they were born to their favorite color gets mashed up and spit out in a jumble of words. Sometimes this exposition takes place just before a major conflict and it eats up all the tension and suspense as you wade through the massive amount of information suddenly dumped into the plot. Or sometimes when a new character is introduced, you get such a thorough description of them, you know their favorite color and what color their underwear is.

This is info dump. When a writer literally dumps a huge amount of information on the reader. Sometimes its very important information (like my fellow writer was trying to get across) or its just filler.

It's definitely a pet peeve of mine, but at the same time it can be horribly easy to do.

Recently, as I was rewriting As The World Dies: Fighting to Survive, I agonized over the first chapter. I know that its important to reintroduce the characters as the second part begins and remind the reader of the important points, but at the same time I didn't just want to drop a summary of the first book into the beginning of the second. What I attempted to do was write good solid scenes that had pertinent information sprinkled through them. It was nerve wracking. So much so, I sent off the first chapter to some people for some feedback. I'm happy to say their response was positive.

But it was still a total bitch to write!

Here are a few things I do to avoid info dump.

1. Let the reader know what your characters look like upon introduction. Sprinkle the other important information into the story as you go along. Let it come out naturally as your story progresses.

2. Lay the foundation for your big reveal throughout the story. You can weave hints throughout the plot without giving everything away. Also, don't treat your readers like they are stupid. If the big "reveal" is actually quite visible in the storyline, don't spend pages going over exactly what the big twist is. I've guessed the "secret" in novels before only to have it pounded home over and over again endlessly by the writer. I got it the first time, thank you very much.

3. World building is another place author's can info dump in a terrible way. Don't spend the first chapter of your book explaining every little detail of how the world works. Again, weave it into the story. I've slogged through books before only because friends said it got better once it was past the slow boring first chapters where everything was explained in terrible detail.

4. Describe things, but don't over describe. I read a book this year that had to describe a room the character entered down to what kind of plant sitting on a table. The character was in the room for around one page.

Trust me. I live in fear of my own info dumping. It's easy to fall into. But a writer needs to take the time to carefully weave the story together and not just get lazy and dump the whole ball of yarn smack dab into the middle and expect it to look good.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Rhiannon, that is some great advice!

    You rule.


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