1. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    Avoiding Info-dumps and attempting to weave it in.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by sylvertech, Jan 10, 2013.

    I tend to rationalize my writing process. That is, my method usually dictates extensive planning,
    research, and pre-writing preparations.

    I am planning a fantasy story (it has science fiction as well but for all current intents and purposes this is irrelevant),
    and I would rather not have the main focus of the story revolve around the weird elements and magical features,
    and instead around the implications they have on the lives of ordinary people.

    Allow me to demonstrate.
    The planet is populated by four different races (bird, fish, demon, and mammal-like, the latter including primates, canines, and cats),
    each has its own magical features.

    There are also three different types of mages (shapeshifters, portal-openers, and elementals).
    The magical rules of each are radically different from standard systems,
    and so proper explanation is in order. I also never refer to them or introduce them with the real-world equivalent,
    since that is not what they are.

    There are also many different factions among the peoples,
    since mythological religions tend to get messy,
    which also needs explanation.

    Now, if I were to, say, narrate the story from the viewpoint of a maid with water-elemental powers working as a slave at a noble's castle, how would I avoid info-dumps?

    More, then? Well, the four races and their culture are separated neatly into four geographical realms,
    each with its own biomes. The seasons are shared, however.

    There is much, much more, actually, but I would rather not vomit the entire setting.
    My leading suggestion is that I narrate from the third person limited point of view of a scholar (historian, perhaps?),
    which would allow for more flexible weaving.

    When will I have spacetime to introduce the background if not in third person omniscient?

    All the characters are natives, so will not exclaim when they see a fire mage lighting fire.
     
  2. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Of course, the common response to questions like these are the recommendation to "show," rather than "tell." For example, if you have a character who is absurdly tall, show him bumping his head on the ceiling and ducking comically through doors rather than simply stating the fact that the character is tall.

    Another way to do it is to say things like: "Jim could remember a time when all doors were built for mages of his particular stature. They were high, round, and less inclined to knock a person unconscious if they passed through without paying enough attention." something like that - a mini flashback type thing.

    Fantasy is difficult to write because it often seems (at least to me) as if there are more details than story. So I suggest, if you can, to make your setting do the info dumping for you. Describe something, then show why it may be that way. Dialogue, too, is a good way to avoid the dreaded dump. If one character tells another something, well in effect you are telling your reader too.

    Personally, I often like to look at a grand story like this from the POV of someone who is NOT your main character, and who has to learn along the way. The situations you put your character in will doubly teach your character, as well as your reader.

    But in my opinion, "telling" is not always bad either if done creatively. Just be careful of relying on it. It's a risky business.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Then why not write it about ordinary people?

    As an exercise, try putting your story idea into a real-world setting in a place you know but assume that the reader does not. You will find that there is a great deal of detail that you know but that the reader does not need to know. The same is true of your fantasy world. Your four races divided neatly into four geographical realms is not terribly different from right here on Earth, especially, say, 19th century Earth. Describe only what the reader needs to know when (s)he needs to know it. Then, when your first draft is complete, go back and edit it down, because you will have almost certainly included too much.

    Whatever background needs to be introduced can be done in any POV by any character. It can be done through dialogue or narrative.

    It's interesting that you've told us a number of things about your "world", but nothing about the story. One of things you may want to think about is how important your fantasy world is to the story.
     
  4. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer Active Member

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    I'm writing a fantasy story myself and this is really tricky. You kind of just have to not tell them. In my world there are no gods, and this is known to the populace. Their belief of an after life is that their spirits will become one with the world, so there's a saying like "Before I become one with the world," or "At least I'll become one with the world knowing I lived out a fruitful life," etc.

    If a reader were to read this they'll be confused, not knowing what it is. It's going to be hard but I just have to prolong telling them this information. I just have to convey this and give them an "idea" of what this phrase means. I think later on I'll "tell" them what this means through maybe a curious character that does not fully understand the meaning of what it means and wants an explanation, but only after the readers have a gist of what it means.
     
  5. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    ................................
     
  6. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    The protagonist(s) will definitely be experiencing new experiences and describing them along the way,
    just not the ones relating to their world. I would rather she (or her) concentrate on the rebellions, the religious wars,
    and the ass-holery of her (or his) tyrannical boss.

    Example.
    "She hurried to her room, all the while keeping her head down lest she offend a noble,
    and then locked the door. She jumped on the bed and screamed into her pillow.
    Why not join the rebels and get myself out of this prison?"

    The world is pretty much self-contained. There is no notion of humanity,
    and I would rather keep it that way. Therefore, I can not explain the feature in terms of humans.
    I can not even hint at a comparison. "arms five feet long" is the only option.

    I could have a character from one culture travel to another.
    An ambassador, perhaps. A lowly servant sold to a slaver and then passed on around the realm.

    Case in point, the content or plot were never actually the problem.
    The problem is that I might be forced to introduce a cast of characters, triple the primary one,
    just to introduce world settings.

    PS. Midnight over here. I'll just close my eyes for a few hours and get back later.
    I still have more to say so JUST STAY RIGHT THERE. No seriously; DON'T MOVE.

    Edit: Please, oh gods that I do not believe in, save me from the dreaded 3rd person Omniscient,
    the reaper of empathy and personal emotions.
     
  7. Pundemic
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    There are actually a lot of ways I could imagine this being done, but which one you choose would be heavily dependent upon what you want the rest of the writing to be like.

    As you say, third-person omniscient would give you the opportunity to launch into a quick lecture every time something that needs explaining pops up. This would keep things simple, but could take the reader out of the story a little much.

    Now, you could go for a more character-focused style, perhaps following this water-elemental maid slave fairly closely and relating her/his thoughts. This means you can be selective about the information you give out to readers, as we will only have access to the information this main character would have reason to care about or happens to know about. Like, we would probably learn a bit about the water element through the maid thinking about it, perhaps practicing it in secret or whatever. This could lead to the maid's thoughts about some other related topics. Perhaps s/he has a friend or master who s/he talks to about this stuff on occasion, which offer additional branches of info? But because s/he doesn't know everything there is to know about the cultures, regions, magics, races and religions, you won't need to info-dump everything. Just find ways to bring each topic up naturally when you think it is becoming relevant.

    Your current course, using a scholar or other educated person's point-of-view, would have some of the same benefits. It could be more appropriate since they would be a little more of an outside observer, like the reader, and they would also have an excuse for being interested in any information you think needs to be conveyed. However, I think it's more important to have an interesting character who is involved in the story, so only do this if the scholar has a role to play. And if you're worried about info-dumps, I can see a scholar causing them to happen a little more easily. I mean, all it takes is having lunch with a curious friend who asks them about something, and all of a sudden they're having a chapter-long discussion about the intricacies of inter-mage politics and the finer points of religiously-charged regional disputes. This can be done very, very well, mind you, so you may want to have a mix.

    Have you considered switching between a couple of main perspectives, perhaps both the maid and the scholar? This could provide you with more varied opportunities for exposition.
     
  8. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    Indeed you have a point.

    To be quite frank I extracted the plot from the world.

    That is, after I decided upon the different cultures and peoples and the entire research reservoir,
    I just chose to tell the story of a rebellion at so and so era, and then chose a viewpoint character to describe it.
     
  9. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    About that.

    I would rather flat-out give the readers what they need.
    I even at one point considered using footnotes. Half the book's worth of footnotes.
    Two stories at the same time. :D
     
  10. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer Active Member

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    Personally I don't like that. I think this is why I couldn't get into Wheel of Time, because everything is explained to you outright, compared to Song of Ice and Fire where the world is felt and still clouded in mystery.
     
  11. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    Yes I have considered switching between perspective, and in fact intend to interweaving a bunch of them,
    the more varied the better, and then their respective arcs would then "mingle" eventually and the plot would collapse into linear causality (sorry about that I was just reading physics theory).

    I also considered narrating from the point of view of a fresh recruit at a mage academy,
    either an assassin organization or a scholarly academia. More infodumps, yay!

    Perhaps have the aforementioned scholar send a copy of his latest book to the noblemen,
    who throws it in the trash (FIRE MAGE TRASH DISPOSAL YEAH), and then the maid would read it or pass it onto...
    You get the general idea.

    The ambassador would leave the tribal life and visit the kingdom city,
    where he would meet the scholar, perhaps mistaking the library for a souvenir shop.

    I can do this all day. (But its midnight now and so I must go.)

    P.S. Wait I have the day off tomorrow, err, today!
     
  12. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    Touche. I would rather you compare my suggestion to Vonnegut;
    Jordan is not what I would call "quotable".

    His (Vonnegut's) style tends to permeate whoever reads his work.
    After reading Slaughter-House Five and Cat's Cradle and others of his works,
    I just can't imagine hiding anything from the reader.
    He even lists it as advise for writers.

    Yet somehow the readers are still emotionally attached.
     
  13. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer Active Member

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    I've never read any Vonnegut before, does he "info dump" or does he reveal it steadily through his books?
     
  14. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    His style is categorized as post-modern.
    To be clear, he usually simply tells and rarely shows.

    I might have had a much more consistent idea of what to do if his stylistic method wasn't so catchy.

    I shall quote this from Slaughter-House. (Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V; I did not memorize it :p)

    I advise you to download it and read it (don't worry about piracy robbing him; he's dead now).

    You really don't have to read all of this.
    Simply, his writing is deeply satirical and plentifully absurd,
    and is the antithesis of typical fantasy.
     
  15. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer Active Member

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    That's the kind of "info-dumping" I can tolerate. Even George R.R. Martin does it frequently in Game of Thrones. As it pertains to fantasy I don't like it when the world, religion, the function of the gods, is thoroughly explained right from the very start like it does in Eye of the World. However in Song of Ice and Fire everything feels like it's lore, but Martin steadily reveals pieces and pieces of the mysteries of his world, and it's a highly satisfying ride.
     
  16. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    Actually Martin is so subtle I can't even remember when I learned the stuff.

    However, even that giant had to concede and surrender some common ground.
    For example, the characters are all human, the animals are mostly earth-like,
    and so are the plants. The magic is down to a minimum relative to other works in the genre.

    Yet, A Song of Ice and Fire is what I am trying to learn from.
    The subtlety is just too inspiring.
    How serendipitous of you to mention it.

    Edit: I might need to leave now so dump as much post-itude as you can and I'll do the same when I wake up.
     
  17. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer Active Member

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    In terms of his world and how it functions, I do agree it's subtle. What I mean is that by stuff like where a certain character stands in society, his status as a noble, etc. I recall Daenerys' first chapter having a lot of telling of her backstory, but those are the things I'm fine with. Explaining every nook of your world right from the get go like Jordan, that's what failed to hook me.
     
  18. Scarfe
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    I would only explain what needs to be explained. You need to know the structure of your world and its inhabitants in quite some detail, but for the purposes of the plot at any given time I doubt your reader would; this way you can cut down on the exposition quite substantially. In the initial chapter(s) with your water elemental maid you are likely to explore the residents and politics within the noble's castle and she might practice her powers while she should be sleeping or working, but that does not require a complete explanation of the world, only the parts of it relevant to that chapter.

    Only when in the next part of the book (for example) a group of demon shapeshifters arrive from the third realm to discuss some matter of intrigue with the noble will some further explanation be required preferably through dialogue and action; perhaps the noble's dismay at having the supercilious bastard's in his home but his powerlessness to stop them.

    I would avoid third person omniscient as this will likely lead you down the road of writing an essay rather than a story, I would consider third person view (the maid). In her position she can see or hear a lot as people will pay little attention to her, and if she needs to her curiosity can get the better of her and she can hide in a cupboard.
     
  19. Pundemic
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    Pundemic Member

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    As much as I like Song of Ice and Fire, one of the things I don't like so much is the sheer number of characters. I find it difficult to keep track of who is where doing what, and it makes it harder to get to know any of them very well. If I were you I would be careful of switching between too many perspectives. I think it gets the world across better if you can portray it through a smaller number of more stable points of reference. Though I guess this is hard if you've got a huge amount of information about your world that you need to convey.
     
  20. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer Active Member

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    No argument there. The first three books it took me a combined month to read them; they were just so damn good. For the fourth book it took me twice as long, even though it's the same length as Game of Thrones. Too many damn characters and the ones I cared about all kept dying.

    Exposition is the biggest bane for fantasy novels. This is why I've yet to read The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. The first book is almost 400 000 words long? That's like reading Catcher in the Rye 5 times.
     
  21. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    That would be practical.

    Third person Omniscient would indeed lead to an essay.
    I might as well write a treatise on the world's features and get it over with.
     
  22. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    I will keep that in mind.

    I could just describe what features the characters stumble upon,
    but it will take great self-control to curb my inner exposition.
     
  23. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    And they said literature is less complex than particle physics.
    "Ooh, look! I moved some variables around and I got the exact value for plank's constant. Woo!"
    "Hey, Heisenberg. Would you mind helping me balancing this setting with the plot?"
    *Shoots himself*
     

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