1. John Carlo
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    John Carlo Active Member

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    Acceptable info dump??? Help please!

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by John Carlo, May 19, 2011.

    Hey all,

    I'm writing a fantasy/sci-fi novel in which the main character has created a certain type of technology that will sell to the highest bidder. The technology itself will be important to the story line as it develops, so I really wanted to explain it to the reader. My plan was to do it by way of a presentation the main character is forced to give to potential buyers. The buyers have to learn what the technology is all about and so does the reader. Personally, I think it will be interesting, but I need some feedback from other writers. Is this a bad approach to dump some much needed info? Why or why not? I don't want to lose the reader.
     
  2. RobT
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    RobT Active Member

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    I think info dumps in general are considered bad, but in the real world they do somethimes have to happen. Your approach of a presentation / sales pitch doesn't seem like such a bad idea for gettting your information across. From my perspective as a reader I can handle a certain amount of "techno speak", but too much will be a turn off. It's really up to your skills as a writer as to how this will appear when you do it.

    One query I have is that if a buyer is going somewhere to buy something, generally he'd know what it was he was going to buy. Shouldn't your buyers already be aware of the technology they're buying and not having to learn as they're bidding?
     
  3. Mister Cheech
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    Mister Cheech Member

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    If it's in the third person, do the sales pitch, because it might take as much time to do that as it would to think of a better idea, but please please please please rewrite it into oblivion because you're going to have to spend a month rewriting just that section before it starts to not sound stilted because it's a flimsy, lousy pretense (but hey, so was writing a 265,000-word novel set within one day i.e. "Ulysses").

    But if it's in the first person, do the info dump in the guy's head, like the guy's is explaining it to a diary or something, just not too condescending.
     
  4. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    If you're writing in the style of a scientific conference or a product advertisement it may work, but the explanation should be written for the characters (the potential buys) and incidentally for the readers, not viceversa.
     
  5. Laura Mae.
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    Laura Mae. Member

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    You could have some kind of misunderstanding between some of the bidders, i.e. one of them was unaware of some aspect of the technology and you could have your character explain it, not in too much detail obviously, but just enough for it to clarify it, as this would give the readers some idea of what the technology actually is.

    Or, if you're writing in first person, you could get some level of detail across by having the seller observe some of the people that are in the auction house (or wherever it is being sold) and have his/her thoughts on the people. e.g. how he hopes its not sold to that person because they look like they are going to use it for the wrong reasons, or maybe even have them pick a favourite person who they like the look of, and have them wishing it was sold to said person, instead of the evil scientist in the back. This would have to be done very subtly, because obviously you're not going to want lots of internal thought going on, but as a way of briefly describing what it is I think this would work, as you could have the character see someone and say (in their mind?) that they hope -- doesn't win, as giving them something with -- capabilities could be dangerous.
     
  6. John Carlo
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    John Carlo Active Member

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    Thanks to all so far. This gives me something to think about. I guess I'll just have to write it and see how it comes out--then rewrite until it's perfect as Mister Cheech suggested. And Rob, good question. I didn't mention this, but the idea is that the technology is highly classified, so yes the buyers have somewhat of an idea of what it's all about but don't realize how far beyond the technology actually is.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Try to make it natural, and don't overdo it. Consider how much the reader needs to know, particularly all at one time. If it comes across as artificial (i.e. you threw in the presentation simply to make the infodump) then it will be worse than simply providing it through normal exposition. Nothing quite as bad than completely fake conversations where you know the author is just using them to info dump.
     
  8. Ramivacation
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    Ramivacation Member

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    The question is, does the reader need -all- of the technology's information right then and there?

    I'm imagining the first chapter of Game of Thrones. Lord Stark's son is watching him perform a harrowing execution. Before he beheads the criminal, he says something to the effect of, "I, lord of this, son of he, loyal to this and all-around cool dude do sentence you to die." That was a well-executed info dump. But George R.R. Martin didn't spend four paragraphs describing who Lord Stark was. One sentence uttered by the man himself and it was done.

    So you do that. "This technology can be used to blah, blah and then blah! For the low low price of $$400 in space cash!" How it does whatever it does, what else it does, what else it could do, who might want to use it, all of those things can be mentioned as you go. Info dumping should be the -bare minimum- the reader needs to understand what's happening.
     
  9. JimFlagg
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    JimFlagg Contributing Member

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    I would present the tech like I would in real life, a demonstration. Instead of saying how it works show the buyer what it does. Most buyers don't care about the how. All the how does is help the sales person build confidence to make the sale.
     
  10. Spring Gem
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    Spring Gem Member

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    A sales pitch usually doesn't include all the technical details of how a device works. It emphasizes the benefits to the customer and how to operate the device. Watch some infomercials, and you will hear phrases like cutting-edge technology, patented technology, etc.
     
  11. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    If we are talking about an industrial co-design involving patents etc...both sides have experts to review and illustrate the entire concept to the smallest detail and the tightest tolerance, I've seen projects stopped because a clearance of 4 mm wasn't considered enough by the customer.
     
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, but would the reader care? That's my answer to the OP. If the reader isn't going to care...

    The fact that you've already characterized it as an infodump - a pejorative term - suggests that you already have a problem with it. There have been numerous discussions on this issue, here, including a thread I started a while back. I'm not going to revisit that discussion, but instead I will make a suggestion.

    Go ahead and write the description. You already have some interesting suggestions as to how you might do it. Write it in way that you feel will give it your best shot. Then go ahead and continue writing your story, and forget about whether it was an "infodump" or not. Once you have completed your first draft, and after you have taken some time off from the project, go back and reread it from start to finish and try to think how a reader (who didn't know anything about the world you've created) would react. Hint: if you find yourself skipping ahead, thinking, "Oh, yeah, I know all that" then STOP! because you will have gotten your answer. Then get started on some heavy-duty editing (which you will have to do in any event).
     
  13. John Carlo
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    John Carlo Active Member

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    I like this approach. I think I've landed on an idea that I'm going to try. Rather than making this one demonstration for potential buyers, I plan on having a few of these meetings where each would reveal a different aspect of the technology. This way, I can keep these parts of exposition a lot smaller than having one huge info dump. Again, thanks to all.
     
  14. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    I heard a lot a discussions about "the Reader"...would the Reader care? Who is the reader? To me there isn't an aristotelic category called "the Reader", the readers exist, and every reader is different, some like details, some dislike etc...

    In my limited experience as "reader" I like technical details, especially if there's a good work of research backing them, it adds a kind of three dimensions feel to the story, for instance, when I was a kid I watched Blade Runner, and I found the technical discussion about the cloning technology between Tyrrell and Batty extremely interesting, of course at that time I didn't know anything about retrovirus, duplication of DNA, RNA etc... but I studied a little bit about genetics and I discovered that it wasn't just technobabble ala Star Trek and I appreciate that, because it worked well in the story AND made me learn something that I didn't know.

    Now I'm finishing "Hunter" by James Byron Huggins and his description of tracking and wild life in Alaska was IMO the best part of the novel. Without it, it would just be a monster's story full of stereotypes. Other people would have considered these parts over the top, but if your aiming is to make a good novel for INTELLIGENT people doing research and caring about the details really makes a difference for that audience.
     
  15. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    Yes scattering all the information on the novel would work better than concentrate everything in just a scene...
     
  16. John Carlo
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    John Carlo Active Member

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    Stranger, thank you. That's what I'm getting at. I've done a tremendous amount of research (okay maybe not tremendous, but a lot), and I find it interesting as well when stories have legitimate tech talk. But I stopped thinking of myself as normal a while ago, so I have to get feedback from others to see what they think. Of course, I input my own ideas into the technology, but I base it off of what currently exists in order to blur the line of fact and fantasy. But I'm pretty excited about the idea to spread the tech-info out, rather than condense it. It is even helping my story along.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are the details of the technology, as opposed to just the fact that it's new and valuable, really important to the plot? I'm thinking of _The Spanish Prisoner_, where the entire plot revolved around a valuable technology, but the details of the technology didn't matter even a little bit. It was a "process", the information needed for the process could be kept in a notebook in a safe, and... that was about all. We even saw a portion of the sales pitch, but we still didn't get any of the details of the technology.

    ChickenFrek
     
  18. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    A story about an innovative technology without any details that is sold like a washing machine would sound extremely fake to me,I haven't read this Spanish prisoner book, but from the description you gave it sounds to be that this valuable technology is nothing more than a cheap plot device.
     
  19. John Carlo
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    John Carlo Active Member

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    Yes, most (not all) of the details are important to the plot. But more importantly, I feel the details to be significant so the reader can see, not just what it does, but also how the technology can be used and abused for the wrong intension. I'm not going to overdo it. But I have to have enough in there for believability. The entire book is about this technology being developed and all of the various people who are vying for it. So far anyway.
     
  20. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are situations when it makes sense to go into how the technology works, not just what it can do for the customer. For example, as someone mentioned, when someone is trying to sell a patent. Also, when trying to sell an innovative piece of equipment to a company or to the military, they probably want to know how it works on the inside. For example, the risks with a fusion-driven submarine may be quite different from the risks with a fission-driven submarine.

    How to make it interesting is another matter. Conflict generates interest, so you could try to fit the descriptions of the technology into a conflict.
    For example, something is about to go wrong with the technology the main character is demonstrating, and they need to fix it without the customers noticing. When the main character describes for his assistant how to fix it, the reader gets an idea of how the technology works.
    Or one of the customer's staff may doubt the new technology and have examples of how similar technology has failed. Your main character then needs to explain how his/her technology is different.
     
  21. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, but the question still comes down to whether or not it is necessary to the story. If the answer is yes, then by all means do the research to make it complete. If not...well, you know.

    As for "the reader", I (for one) use the phrase as a reminder that most of us write to (at least) a theoretical audience. If you write only for yourself and care only about writing what you will later want to read back, then there is no reason to ask or answer ANY of the technical or stylistic questions discussed here. So, when someone posts a question on this forum or makes a statement, I assume it is because they want to make their writing better as judged by standards other than what they themselves like.

    Do tastes vary? They certainly do. If you are writing to a specific readership, one where descriptions of specific technical details are as important as story lines, then, yes, the rules (such as they are) may be different. But I'm not sure the OP of this thread is doing that.
     
  22. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't like how this forum gives the word "infodump" such a broad definition. From where I sit, an infodump is only bad if it stops the flow of the story long enough to annoy the reader, and make the reader skip it. But it is possible to present a lot of info in a relatively small number of words if you keep the reader interested. For example, in your situation where the character is presenting the tech to potential buyers, you could have a lot of back-and-forth question and answer between the MC and the buyers that could, in addition to explaining the tech, deepen the character of the MC and develop the characters of the buyers, and could also include a fair bit of humor. Or this conversation between the MC and the buyers might start building tension, because it may become apparent that one or more of the buyers want the tech for nefarious reasons. Or the buyers may begin squabbling amongst themselves over how they would use the tech.

    Infodumps are only bad when they're BORING - when they stop the story cold for too long. If you dump your info in an interesting way that keeps the reader reading, it's perfectly all right.
     
  23. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Tell me about it. Everything I had to say on the subject, I said here: http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=36538.
     
  24. John Carlo
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    John Carlo Active Member

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    Yes, this is sort of what I had planned, but I always hear so many negative things about "info dumping" that it developed a fear of doing it even in a creative way. Thanks for the feedback.
     

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