Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Writer's Corner: Disguising That Info Dump!


I'm guessing I don't need to lead you guys into this week's topic. We've all read them before. Those books that start off by throwing pages upon pages of back story and world building info at you. Possibly in some very long winded dialogue or character reflection. Some of us like them. Others not so much. How do you tell what is enough info to interest a reader and what will make their eyelids droop?
       On a personal level, I don't mind the info dump if it's done seamlessly. By that I mean if the info is meshed well into the MC's thoughts or comes at an appropriate juncture. Sometimes the info dump is even necessary for the reader to understand the plot. This is especially true in paranormal, dystopian or alternate history novels where the readers may be picking up the book in the middle of the action. Strangely enough, I don't find info dump so necessary in fantasy because I'm pretty much expecting something far out.
       Conversely, I don't mind books that throw you in the deep end and slowly drop nuggets of wisdom here and there. Sure things are a bit confusing a first  but eventually everything unfolds and half the fun is getting there right?
        At this point, I feel I need to confess that this post is a knee jerk reaction to my mindless trawling of Goodreads reviews  over the last few days. There are just so many comments about how slow some books are or how readers disliked a book because they didn't know what was happening.
      So if there's one thing I've learned from my Goodreads stalking it's this: You cannot, I repeat, cannot please everyone. So stop trying. There is no magical formula when it comes to info dumping. As a writer, you just have to follow your own gut instincts and unless there's ten  pages where you describe a character and then go on to tell us who all their family members are and which planet they come from, than you should be fine. 
      This post is pretty insightful huh? I wish I could take my own advice. I'm off to trim some info dumping fat!
   

13 comments:

  1. Agreed- about the not pleasing everyone thing. Never going to happen. Plus I only happen to trust 50% of what anyone says... Some of you out there are more like 30%, yea, you know, those people. ;) just joking. I think review stalking is fun, I like seeing what different people thought of stuff.

    Beth ^_^

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  2. I completely agree. Although I havent started writing yet (i know, i know, i need to...i'm hoping to start around christmas time)you just cant please everyone, just like in life.

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  3. Great point about not being able to please everyone. It's something we all need to remember while we're writing but sometimes don't. And that people pleasing is what can completely keep you from writing if you're just doing it for others and not yourself. Thanks!

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  4. All true. I try to be patient with both but I'd rather just jump into the action and have little bits of information come out over time. I always feel like I'm being talked down to and called stupid if an author has to spell it all out.

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  5. Totally agree. I'll admit I know some of my reviews are like that (talking about the slowness of a story), but like Jenny said I'd rather just kind of be thrown into the action and get info a little bit at a time. I can see where it would be helpful either way though.

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  6. I honestly think you're not guilty of info dumping, Lan, from what I've read of your work. You do a great job of making it seamless. The way to get it seamless is to understand the flow it needs to be moving at, like story tempo. But, it's kind of its own thing separate from story pacing. When it's all bunched up into a certain area, it doesn't flow well, and readers notice that. When it's too sparse, they'll notice that too.

    But, you're right, you can't please everyone, even when you're doing something right. That's all you need to know, though, is that you're doing something right and damn all those people who still can't SEE that. Too bad them...

    Hope the researching is going well for your novel. Hang in there!

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  7. You can never make everybody happy...I have four kids. I have learned this lesson. ;)

    That being said...I like books that dump me in at the deep end, with the main character already in action. Then work in details as needed. If it doesn't come up in the character's natural course of action or conversation, it doesn't belong in the story...

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  8. Beth: I'm always wary of overly critical or enthusiastic reviews as well and there are certain people's reviews that I trust more than others for sure!

    Sherre: Yay, you should start writing for sure! When you do, I'd love to read :)

    Jessica: I get so caught up trying to work out what readers will and won't like that I sometimes have such a hard time starting. That was my problem with my NaNo outlining. Now I've just decided to write what I want!

    Jenny: I feel the same way. I try to be patient with books because it usually takes me a few chapters to figure out if I like a book anyway. I just worry about those people who miss out on great books because they don't like a bit of info. I almost gave up on To Kill A Mockingbird because of the super boring info dump first chapter.

    Ash: I didn't mean any of your reviews Ash. I don't really read reviews that you guys do on goodreads because I read your blogs. But some other people I have seen on the general reviews really rip into books and it scares me!

    Cathy: I agree the info can't be all bunched up in one section. That's a bit hard to take. I'm so glad you don't think I overly info dump because sometimes I feel like I'm just not giving people enough info!

    BJ: That's the other thing as well, I try and make my characters do things, often strange things, just so I can put a little world building info in. It's madness. I'm going to stop right now.

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  9. Info-dumping is usually extremely bad in sci-fi and fantasy works, but sometimes you need that info-dump to really get into the action when it pulls out its machine guns and goes full-force into the story.

    Across the Universe by Beth Revis is one of those hundred-page dumpers, but the book is freaking fantastic. I adore it. I just hate the first 100 pages, but without them I think I wouldn't have enjoyed the book as much as I had.

    But of course, everyone is so different. One of my best friends hates ATU because of it's info dump. It's up to the author to decide, I think, depending. I like being thrown into the action, but if I'd just been thrown into a book like Jurassic Park by Michael Critcheon, I would not have known what the heck was going on!

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  10. Ashley: It's so hard to find a balance isn't it? I'll live through the info dump to get at the good parts because I always assume info dump is there for a reason. Across the Universe is definitely on my TBR!

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  11. Just 'cause I can't shut-up, I'll add some more to this cool topic of discussion...

    I think when you create a scene that's meant to give the reader info, but you make it so that the info comes out through action and dialogue, in a streamlined way, the reader will actually enjoy it, rather than feel weirded-out by it.

    That's how you avoid info dumping by weaving the info into the actual tale itself in an organic way. A character can call out to the MC by name, thus letting the reader know the MC's name, for example. Relating something to the MC's recent birthday gives the reader the MC's age:

    "Julie was such a b*tch at my sweet-sixteen birthday party last month, I don't think I'll be texting her back any millenium soon!" Kind of like that, and it gives a lot of info for not a lot of prose. But, hopefully, your MC won't be a hose-head like the one I just invented here!

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  12. Cathy: I'm always up for a discuss so type away! Your quick story is all my problems rolled into one. I just can't seen to mesh my story like that. It all seems to be info dumping and it's getting me stuck. For example, I'm trying to introduce my MC's name the way you have but all I can think to do is just have her straight out say it. I'm not painting a great picture of my writing am I? I'm going to go and try out your technique right now!

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  13. I think I'm the kind of reader that prefers info dumps. I just want to know what's going on; I want the world established so that I understand what's happening. It's nice if it's done seamlessly, but it's not a dealbreaker for me if it isn't. I mean, an info dump is probably only going to take up a few pages, right? I'd rather just get those pages out of the way and enjoy the rest of the story.

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