1. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I'm Welsh - and proud!

    Doing info-dumping well

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Thomas Kitchen, Apr 13, 2013.

    Hi everyone,

    I'm currently writing a post-apocalyptic novel, and I am now writing the second-draft. The big thing that needs to be changed is that in the middle of the story, the main character has to tell a story to the other main character. This story cannot be told in little bits throughout the story, and must be told in two or three parts maximum, with a very short break in-between (as of now it is told in two parts). It is vital to the entire book, as it shows more about someone's past, and it helps the main character to develop and change by the end of the novel.

    What I'm asking is this: I know there are ways to info-dump well (although maybe info-dumping isn't the right word for this), an example being the folk tales in Chinua Achebe's amazing Things Fall Apart, so what are your tips for making a long story within the story interesting and readable? The whole story is 2682 words, the first part being 766 and the second being 1916. Is this too long? Should it be split into three sections? Should there be more interaction between the two main characters as one tells the story?

    Any advice and help would be excellent, and if you need to know anything else, please just ask. :)
     
  2. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    short, sharp, believable dialogue
     
  3. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    If it was me, I would probably just turn it into a flashback chapter. A 2600 word chapter doesn't seem long at all, or much like an info dump. But having that in the middle of a chapter, most definitely does.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Whether or not something is really an infodump (in the sense of being unacceptably boring) depends on how interesting the info being dumped is. I pointed out once in another thread that Robert Heinlein's early stories contain a lot of infodumping, and the infodumps are the only interesting, memorable things about them. The characters and plots are run-of-the-mill; the infodumps are fascinating.

    So if your story-within-a-story is interesting, it won't be too long. If it's dull, it can never be short enough.
     
  5. Birmingham
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    Birmingham Active Member

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    I just started reading World War Z, by Max Brooks. His info-dump is done in the beginning, introducing the entire book as a series of reports. The narrator in the first few pages, we learn quickly, is a member of an important commission who explains why in addition to the dry, statistical reports, he also publishes the emotional and subjective narratives of people who lived through the zombie wars. It's a very interesting form of info dump, but I suppose it may only fit certain type of stories.

    How is your novel built? Does it have a special structure that would make certain type of info dumps work better than others?
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I love the way the OP anticipated all the preprogrammed responses regarding "infodumps" to get to the heart of his question, which is better put by saying, "How do I disclose this critically important information without it being an 'infodump'?"

    If it absolutely, positively can't be broken up, then JHunter's suggestion is the best - a flashback chapter. You may want to alert the reader to the fact that there is a prior history earlier on, a sort of foreshadowing of the fact that there is a story that the other character wants or needs to know. My only other suggestion, without knowing all the particulars, is to remember that human nature about our past histories is often to be conflicted. We need to unburden ourselves but are at the same time reluctant to do so. This sometimes results in our giving out only as much information at any one time as we feel we absolutely have to (parents of recalcitrant children know this aspect well). A piecemeal approach may also serve to stoke the reader's desire to know.

    Good luck.
     
  7. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    It's important to distinguish between "Infodump" and "exposition." Exposition is information about the setting, events that happen before the main plot, character's backstories, etc. When used correctly, exposition serves to increase the story's momentum. Infodump is when exposition is used incorrectly, usually by giving away too much too fast. Infodump is exposition that kills momentum, resolves suspense too early, or in any other way bogs down the story.

    The main goal for you as a writer is to keep your reader turning pages. When exposition is done correctly, the reader finds it satisfying, exciting, or suspenseful, and they keep reading. When it is handled poorly, it becomes infodump and turns the reader off from continuing to read.

    To be clear, there is no such thing as "interesting infodump." It's an oxymoron. If it's interesting and keeps the reader reading, then it is effective exposition.
     
  8. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    If it's fully incorporated into the narration then it is not "info dumping."
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You can't info-dump well. By definition, info-dumping is flooding the user with unnecessary information. Just as you cannot write purple prose well, the definition of the term precludes it being the adverb well.

    You have to turn away from the delusion that all that information you wish to provide is necessary at all, nuch less at the very beginning of your story.
     
  10. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I will say, however, that infodumping is important for novice writers, though only in their rough draft. Infodumping can help them get through the story to the end. It helps them set the stage, build characters, etc., which they can later edit and craft into an excellent narrative.
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is an excellent point.

    I'd also like to echo a point you made earlier: not all exposition is infodump. If we accept the definition of infodump everyone uses here, that infodump is a block of boring and unnecessary information, then we have to accept that interesting and necessary information is exposition, not infodump. The important thing for the novice writer is to be able to tell the difference. And as Cogito (and I) have often said on this forum, readers do not need as much information as novice writers think they do.
     
  12. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Agreed. That is something I was very guilty of when I first started writing. I assumed I needed to tell readers what was what. I didn't realize I could set things up in such a way that they would arrive to those conclusions without direct guidance on my part. Information can be good but only if it is necessary.
     
  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This reminded me: check Metro 2033, a post-apocalyptic/nuclear war novel. There's a huge chunk of background info right at the beginning. I don't know if in Russia they don't have a bunch of forumites screaming "nyet, nyet, never do that, comrade!" at aspiring writers or how on earth the author had the balls to slam it right there, but guess what, the information was so interesting I gobbled it down even though it was just information embedded in narration and partly in dialogue.

    Granted, I wouldn't do this with the current WIP. The beginning is slow enough as it is, and things often get stagnant if there's a chunk of exposition especially right at the beginning, yet I think in Metro this worked.
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I see an awful lot of 'writer advice - never do that' faux pas in a lot of very good novels. To me it says to be careful thinking of this stuff as absolutes, but rather think of the advice as a red flag, if/when you find this stuff in your work, take a real hard look at it.
     
  15. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, first and foremost believe in your thing, then evaluate the advice you get and see if it fits your work and/or vision. I think exposition can be done well even if it's lengthy, as long as the content offers something new or particularly interesting to the reader and the narration flows, grips you by the nape of your neck and throws you into the world of the book. Which was exactly the case with Metro 2033, imo.
     

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