Monday, February 6, 2012

The Smell of Info Dumps

Lets talk about a bunch of fascinating info that will make your eyes glaze over and put you to sleep. I'm just kidding. It won't put you to sleep, instead you'll just stop reading and click on to something else less inane for your taste. Chapter 12 of my novel Venus Rising is called Info Dump and that's what we are going to talk about today.

After poor spelling, grammer, and POV issues, the dreaded info dump is one of the most common problems many fiction writers face when penning their manuscripts. The reason for this is that initially the story is without form and the author must wrestle a narrative out of the ether. The result often leaves a buch of non-sequitur information speckled about that reflects back story, nuance and world building but doesn't directly add to the story. Sounds good right? No, it's not good.

There is nothing inherently wrong with writing info dumps in draft. In fact the practice is very helpful when creating a more believable fantasy. The problem is when writers can't recognize their info dumps, or worse, fall in love with them, and don't excise them from the final work. It's like a Wikipedia page right in the middle of a story. Everything grinds to a halt. Encyclopedias are full of great and useful information, but nobody reads them just for fun or at least not to find plot and character development. They read them when they want to learn something. If you want to be a good fictional writer, you need to know this important distinction.

So why the hell would I make a whole chapter named after this bad habit? Because sometimes info dumps are necessary and even add to a story. My protagonist in Venus Rising, Axel, had just been given a bunch of important info that greatly helped him with a difficult challenge he had been struggling with. His complete intake of this information was in no way important to the story. So rather than make some transparent effort to expose all the information via dialog or his thought, I dumped it on the reader over a few topical paragraphs and then continued on with the narrative.

This worked because the info dump is bite sized and simply helps the reader understand the direction the character has shifted towards. It doesn't work when too much time is spent going over details and information that in no way reflects a character's feelings or behavior. Information for the sake of informing makes for a bad info dump. Information for the sake of conveying something new a character is learning or about to do can be helpful and may help progress the character onto more interesting things.

Show verses tell.

Does what you've written truly reflect your character's thoughts, feelings or actions? If it doesn't, then be honest with yourself and either change the prose into something that happens organically, or remove it. Ask yourself if what you wrote sounds like something you'd find on Wikipedia. If it does, kill it like my man Dexter.

Love your reader and don't waste their time.

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