1. ● HEY! HEY! LISTEN! ●
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    ● HEY! HEY! LISTEN! ● Member

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    Avoiding infodumps

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by ● HEY! HEY! LISTEN! ●, Oct 26, 2012.

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  2. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    I go with dialogue and implication, usually, accompanied by the careful use of adjectives. I prefer to let the reader get his or her own sense of the environment, most of the time.
     
  3. Fivvle
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    Fivvle Contributing Member

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    Well, I'll try to help with what limited knowledge I have.

    I have a habit of pumping every background information nuance I can come up with into scenes - this is because I come up with this information while I'm writing the story. It helps me make sense of what it is I'm doing. I don't worry about this on the first draft.
    The second draft is where I will go through each scene and systematically remove every bit of info that does not directly pertain to the story at hand. The readers will never know some of that info exists, and if they did, none of them would want to read it. So I keep those removed tidbits in mind, and if they can be lightly worked into the story at some other point, I will do that.

    So it's kind of like a block of clay -- you start out by amassing all of the rich, dense matter that you can and mold it into a vague shape. Then, you begin to remove as much as you have to to make the sculpture that was hiding inside it all along.
     
  4. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Info dumps, and what's held within can be sprinkled throughout a novel. I tend to do small dumps (2-3 paragraphs most) and show the rest through dialogue, actions and back story. You just don't want page after page of information because it's tedious.

    As above posters have said, sprinkle it around the book.
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Time to post this again: not every instance of providing the reader with background information is an "infodump". The term "infodump" connotes a particularly off-putting, dense narrative of background information that the reader doesn't need to understand the plot and probably doesn't want to have to deal with. If you limit yourself to providing the reader with what (s)he needs when (s)he needs it, you won't have to worry about infodumps.
     
  6. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    I personally don't mind the occasional bit of background and explanation. If it's well placed and doesn't drag, there's no problem. It's when it breaks up the action or seems superfluous that Infodumps begin to get irritating.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Start by eliminating 95% of the "important background information" entirely. It probably seems totally awesome and epically fascinating to you, but the reader doesn't need it for the story. It's a distraction from the story.

    The rest can be discovered, remembered, or hypothesized at the point of the story where it becomes relevant, if not considerably later.
     
  8. ● HEY! HEY! LISTEN! ●
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  9. lemurkat
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    lemurkat Senior Member

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    Perhaps some of the students could be discussing the teachers? And what has happened?

    Is it possible to start the story at the point where they are cleaning up the school?
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    These are the kinds of decisions that writers have to learn to make. You can begin the story where you are now, and make reference back to the cleanup - I'm sure such a project would have caused lingering resentments, and in the course of your story you can refer back to the cleanup every time another of these resentments surfaces.

    "Oh, yeah, Jack," Maria snapped. "And let's not forget whose bright idea it was to play that prank that started this whole thing!"
    Jack rolled his eyes.
    "It was a joke! I never meant for you to leave it on his desk!"

    Or, you can actually have this exchange during the cleanup. Where do you want the immediacy of the story? Maybe the cleanup sets the stage for all the conflicts to come. If so, I would start there. But maybe it is only a part of the conflicts to come, and they really have multiple roots in different times. In that case, start where you are starting.

    Actually, you probably don't. Especially if your story is only 10,000 words. It's a common misconception of new writers that they have to "get everything out there right away". Pacing can be very important to a story, building tension and even suspense. Let the reader wonder, and give the details when and if they are needed, not before. Read O. Henry's "The Cop and the Anthem" for an idea of what I'm talking about.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I would amend this. Forget "probably." You absolutely do not need to prepare your readers with a ton of background! There is nothing wrong with leaving the reader curious and somewhat confused. In fact, you want the reader curious, and hungry.

    Always deliver information as late as possible, and as little as possible. Make the reveals a precious and rare treasure, not a glutton's feast.
     
  12. ● HEY! HEY! LISTEN! ●
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  13. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't. If it matters to the story it will come up anyway.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    > I have to say everything clearly in
    > the beginning-otherwise the readers won't get a thing. That's why
    > I needed advice. Sorry, can't solve problems.

    I don't see any need to pre-explain any of this. It's OK for the readers to be puzzled and then have an "Oh" moment later.

    Reader thoughts:

    "Huh. They don't like that teacher obviously. I wonder why?"
    "Oh, that's why. Wonder what happened to the old teacher?"
    "Oh, heart. That's a shame."
    "Why are the kids acting like they have power over the teacher?"
    "Oh, a petition."

    Often, discovering the past is part of a story. Presenting it all, with tidy explanations for every little thing that's happening, makes the story less interesting and less engaging.

    Edited to add: I would suggest pretending that you've already written the perfect infodump that gracefully explains every little thing. Then write the story assuming that the reader knows everything in the past, without making _any_ conscious effort to explain that past. Then let the story age for a while, pick it up, and see what really needs explaining. Or, even better, have someone else read it (without that infodump, because it doesn't exist) and ask them to tell you what they're confused about.

    I'd bet that the vast majority of the stuff will just come out without you having to explain it, and that you'll just need a little bit of touch-up.
     
  15. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    I agree about leaving the reader curious, but not confused. One of the things I regularly find in unpublished short stories I critique is that I am confused at the start and that really pulls me out of the story. Often the confusion could be eliminated with one or two sentences of explanation, without requiring an info-dump.
     
  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Of course giving information slows the narrative down - it's like a slow motion moment, and if done well it could be terrific. If however your entire book is in slow motion, well the reader's just gonna stop reading.

    What you need is exposition :p

    Thing is, information is only interesting if you've already got your readers wanting that info. Say Hunger Games - tonnes of infodump sections with history and how jabberjays came to be - but you're interested because say, Katniss comes across a mockingjay who's repeating all the tunes, and you as the reader are like, "I wonder why?" Which is how you get onto the jabberjays (mockingjays were bred from jabbers).

    Or say, have someone crying so the reader's wondering "Why's she crying?" and then they'll want that 2-page-long backstory.

    Basically, let something happen first, let your reader wonder why, and then give them the information.
     
  17. ● HEY! HEY! LISTEN! ●
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  18. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    As well you should. But I really think you should try writing it without ANY backstory. Just to see what it looks like. Then, when you read through it, see where the natural questions arise - "Wait. Why did this happen?" Then put in only as much backstory as you need to answer the question. If the backstory you put in raises other questions, eliminate the backstory.

    You don't have to answer every question the reader has. You don't have to describe the whys and wherefores of everything that happens in your story. Let the reader figure some things out for him/her-self. You can trust the reader. Really.
     
  19. Michelle7
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    Well, I don't write short stories, but with my novels I'll start with at prologue in that situation. However I agree with sprinkling it throughout the story and using dialogue.
     
  20. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Most prologues can be merged into, or turned into, a Chapter One. The problem with prologues, and it's the same with Chapter 1, is that if the prologue starts with pure unadulterated info, then you run the risk of boring the reader. It goes back to your have THREE to FOUR paragraphs at the most to catch an agent's attention, publisher (if they're accepting non solicited manuscripts) or reader. If those 3-4 aren't up to snuff, then the book goes from the 'slush pile' to 'reject.'

    When it comes to tons of information up front, I don't recommend it. If one wants to have a opening that doesn't require tons of action, then it'll go a long ways to research 'active openings' in a Google search. Never forget the importance of your first 3-4 paragraphs. I've spent the last 2-3 weeks polishing/rewriting/polishing some more on my first three and single sentence hook. It's that important.
     
  21. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    You have to trust your readers to make connections. Do they need information? Absolutely. Do they need it all at once? No.

    When I was a boy, my older sister hated onions. Just hated 'em. She'd pick them off her hamburgers, and if Mom cut them up into a salad, which happened often because Dad liked his salads that way, my sister would pick them out of that, too. She loved Mom's spaghetti, though. Mom had lived in Naples in the early 1960s and she knew how to make some good Italian food. Mom's spaghetti kicked ass, and my sister never did pick the onions out of it, because they were cut up so small that in the sauce it was pretty hard to see that they were onions at all. My sister simply ate the onions without complaint ... without knowing they were there at all. They seasoned the dish, but weren't obtrusive.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    an effective analogy!
     
  23. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    Why do we need to know all of this? Why should I care who the homeroom teacher is?

    Start your story as close to the end as possible. Cut out any information that hinders you from developing characters or the story.
     
  24. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Exactly, the homeroom teacher is a bit player. He could be cut out and things would still move along.
     
  25. Spiderman
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    Spiderman Member

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    Infodumps arent always bad. Sometimes they're the climax and best part of the story. But otherwise, the story should build up, and have a few infodumps in key parts.
     

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