1. Meteor
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    Meteor Active Member

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    How can I make my readers understand without overloading them?

    Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Meteor, Oct 17, 2014.

    Hi guys and thanks for taking the time to look at this. This is something I've been trying to get around since I started dabbling in science fiction writing. I haven't read a ton of sci-fi but, what I have read brought me to notice the ridiculously high amounts of information they give. One particular book I read for example explained the method for faster than light humanity was using. It went on and on for several pages just talking about this one thing. Massive information dump before continuing the story. It continued to do this several times and eventually I got tired then just stopped reading. I understand there is a need to explain some things rather than show them but, sci-fi seems to go overboard. This of course includes myself and my own writing. I don't want my readers to get bored with ginormous info dumps. Does anyone know a good way to give the required information without just loading it on for pages at a time? Should I just break it up into little sections?
     
  2. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you've answered your own question...

    You don't always have to fit it in the story somehow; you could have tidbits from history books or the "Galaxy manual" at the head of each chapter.
     
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  3. jonahmann
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    jonahmann Active Member

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    You mentioned showing. Just show the machine at work rather than telling about it.
     
  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It might sound like semantics, but maybe you could work on "letting" your readers understand, instead of "making" them.

    That is, you could blend information in as needed, giving readers enough information to draw their own conclusions and fill in the gaps as works for them, without forcing them to understand every detail of your world in the exact way that you meant it.

    Focus on the story, and ask yourself whether the details you're adding are in the service of the story, or the service of 'making' your readers understand.
     
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  5. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    What @BayView said is what I would recommend. It's a style that has worked well for Stephen King for many years. :agreed:

    Don't assume your reader is stupid, just drop some scraps and lead the reader to paint their own picture.
     
  6. Meteor
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    Meteor Active Member

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    Well now that you mention it I guess I kind of did. At any rate thanks for the advice guys. Looks like I've got some work to get done. :)
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Are these pieces of information really necessary? That's the first thing you should ask yourself. In a lot of cases, the reader doesn't care how something works; he/she is more than happy to take certain things for granted. Also, keep in mind that some readers have advanced degrees in subjects like physics, so they can easily find holes in your explanation. One of the members here has a PhD in physics, and I remember him saying that he prefers it when the author doesn't go into a lot of detail about advanced technologies unless absolutely necessary. I agree with him on this.
     
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  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You can lead a horse to water...

    Forget about making them understand. Just provide enough so they can understand if they are capable. And assume they are capable. Respect your readers, and they will rise to meet your expectations. Lead them by the nose, and the will graze and moo.
     
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  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm a bit late to this game, but I agree in total with Cogito here. I am an avid, life-long fan of science fiction and the description you gave of pages of "explanation" for the FTL drive would have been a deal-breaker, even for me. Book tossed aside, next! That's not good science fiction. That's what I call tech-porn. Some people dig it. I do not. A science fiction should serve the same purpose as any novel: it should say something about the human condition. It has the advantage of allowing the writer to step away from reality to a controlled extent and focus on a paradigm that a real world story could probably still do, but not with as tight a focus because it would push the bounds of reality. When writers "get all up in" their tech wizardry, It starts to become masturbatory and draws attention to the writer (narrative intrusion) and the writer's wish for you to be amazed by the thing s/he invented. I don't care about the thing. The thing is just a tool to talk to me about the human condition, and when it usurps that roll, then it has forgotten its place.

    Just my 2p. ;)
     
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  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You might want to ask yourself ...what is it about this technology that my readers will want to know? It will probably be in the realm of explaining the leap between what we can do now, and what can be done in your future universe. But be as general as possible. If you're trying to explain why your universe has FTL travel, just see if you can sum up the process in a sentence or two.

    That kind of thing. :)
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2014
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  11. karmazon
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    karmazon Member

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    Blake Snyder in his book "Save the cat" has an interesting idea about spicing up info dumps:
    http://howtowriteshop.loridevoti.com/2012/04/putting-the-pope-in-the-pool-adding-fun-to-boring-information/

    He gives an example from his screenplay where the two main characters had a tea drinking contest and now they really have to pee, but they can't because the villain is giving a monologue(info dumping). This way there's some amount of exposition but you don't notice it because there's also entertaining thing happening in the background.
     
  12. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I am reading sci-fi (my favourite category being space-opera) I go into it realising I must suspend disbelief, particularly with regard to FTL travel.

    I like my books to be about plot and character, and the sci-fi setting to be more of a backdrop to this; such as the Foundation trilogy or Iain M Bank's Culture novels. These books do not need to explain the technology and science in great detail, or have vast passages of exposition in order to be great sci-fi novels. In fact, I would go as far as to say they are great sci-fi because they choose not to provide a thesis on how their universe works and concentrate upon the characters and character-arcs instead.

    The moment Star Wars (which is admittedly Science Fantasy) introduced midi-chlorians as an explanation for the force, the force was no longer interesting.
     

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