1. Last1Left
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    Last1Left Active Member

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    You know that box next to the Wendy's?

    How to do without Info Dumps

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Last1Left, Nov 24, 2008.

    Hey, guys. I kinda fell off the face of the earth, and in the process forgot about this place. Well, I'm back, and with a question.

    Of course, every one knows that info dumps are bad, but how do you do without them? In the story that I'm writing, I find it very hard to convey the feelings I want because I feel the necessary information you need to know isn't there. So, without info dumps, how am I supposed to show that the world is in a state monumental change, especially if the reader isn't aware of how it used to be? A friend of mine suggested flashbacks, but the idea doesn't hold any particular appeal to me. Some help here, please?

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    Lies. Info dumps, are not automatically bad. An info dump is anything that reveals information in mass. The key to managing info dumps is delivery, staying on track, and keeping it brief. Info dumps must be relevant to the matter at hand. Only enter one when there is something that must be explained (either via narrative or character to character conversation). Avoid the tendency to ramble. I know that I have trouble with with going overboard with these things and often need to go back and cut it down to the absolute essentials so that it doesn't drag and I don't lose the reader.

    Info dumps aren't automatically bad unless you let them run on and on going off topic or to deep into something that the reader doesn't absolutely have to know. It's all about information management. Know when to have an info dump, what information is needed for the reader to understand, and be aware that you need to get in and out of these things in a timely manner. They're really just long segments of exposition which, though tricky, are not off the bat bad. It's just something that need managing and consideration as to when and how it's used.
     
  3. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Aren't there ways for you to just work the information into the story as it progresses? So what if the reader doesn't immediately know everything that happened to make this world the way it is? Isn't that the way with most stories? Part of the intrigue of reading is to learn as you go along, not all at once. Wouldn't a fantasy story with some new strange world come across as terribly dull if the reader learned all its secrets upfront? And forget about mystery stories, we'd already know who did it.

    Just try to show through the actions/interactions of the characters that something is greatly changed; then, as the story goes on, reveal in info bits what has happened, along the way. Longer segments of info are okay now and then, but if this is something you're still working on learning, I'd advise against that technique for now, because chances are more than likely that you'll end up writing the bad kind of info dump.

    Leave breadcrumbs, instead of cramming the whole loaf down the reader's throat.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I haven't read Lucifer's Hammer in a while, but I'd like to know what you are calling an infodump in it.

    Infodumps generally refer to summarizing past events or personal characteristics of characters.

    These are the kinds of background data that can and should be introduced in bite-sized morsels, enough to give the reader a taste, but not to satisfy. But never feed the reader anything in a block of narrative that will be apparent from context within a ewasonable period of time (paragraphs to chapters away, depending on how important it is to understand.

    For example, you don't need to explain to the reader that there was a war a few years ago, if the remnants of war will be apparant during the character's travels. In addition to craters and ruined cities, there are probably heavily armed survivors suspicious of strangers, and living in houses with improvised barricades around them. What was the war about? Let the reader wonder, until it is revealed in bits and pieces through dialogue or clues encountered by thecharacters.

    But always leave the reader wondering. A satisfied reader is a bored reader. Ideally, the full picture develops over the course of the story, but still leaves questions and loose ends. Some of these may be ripe for sequels, others are food for the reader to gnaw upon after the story is finished.

    Keep the mystery alive.
     
  5. Last1Left
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    Last1Left Active Member

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    So there's appeal to readers in not knowing everything? I actually never thought of that before. Therefore, massive info dumps aren't essential, but rather small bits and pieces in the appropriate places. Hmmm... this gives me much to think about, hahaha. Thanks everyone, especially tehuti88 and Cogito.
     
  6. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    writingforums is the first place I've ever heard of the term "infodump" My understanding of the term-based on what I've seen here-is that it is anytime information is given that isn't worked into the story.

    In the book I referenced, nearly every chapter is proceeded by and ends in some sort of information. Separate from the narrative.

    At the beginning is what they call a "Dramatis Personae" outlining all of the characters and their functions in the story.

    There are quotations from famous people/writers relevant to the story and newspaper headlines/government reports throughout detailing what is going on around the world.

    Apparently my idea of an "infodump" was incorrect. So I'm sorry to the OP, I didn't have my facts straight.

    I do stand by my opinion that they are good books though.
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not knowing, and the desire to discover what we don't know yet, is exactly what makes mystery novels so popular, not to mention all of the CSI-type TV shows. We have to know what the writers aren't telling us, so we hang on.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    But it works to engage the reader in any kind of writing.

    If you start off a book with little James running across a field, out of breath, you immediately wonder whether he is running away from something (bullies, a swarm of hornets, a mean-lloking dog?) or towards something (did that game i ordered come in yet?). If you start by telling the reader the bullies are after him for getting a better grade on yesterday's spelling quiz, you've not only robbed them of a chance to wonder why he's running, you've also delayed the start of teh action that the reader coulden't care less about until they see that James is gonna get thumped if he can't run like the wind.
     
  9. Foxee
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    Foxee Contributing Member Contributor

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    How weird. I wrote a post on this very subject this morning for a different forum. Let me just dump it here. :D (Is post recycling ok?)

    The example given was how to give the background to this scene (the original breakup, the process of making sure certain songs were on the radio) without info-dumping that at the beginning of the scene. Here is my example for how to blend this info in to the scene itself.

    Gabe didn’t see Linney at first. She was to meet him under their oak tree by the lake. He checked the dashboard clock which glowed 7:59 PM. Maybe she wasn’t coming. Maybe that would be better for both of them.

    Then he saw a flash of a fawn color. A coat.

    Linney stepped out from behind the tree and his headlight beams caught her before he flipped them to the parking lights. The coat was new. The haircut was new. Probably a lot of things were new in the last year.

    A moment went by and he childishly closed his eyes, reaching to make absolutely sure the radio dial was on the right station.

    “Do you remember
    when we met…”


    The door opened, a rush of cool air accompanied her, and it closed firmly again. He opened his eyes and she was sitting in his car. Like a miracle.

    “Come with me, my love
    To the sea, the sea of love…”


    “Hey,” Gabe said.

    “Hey,” She replied softly and turned to look at him for the first time. “It was good of you to come out and meet me. I know your job and everything…”

    And everything. Everything that had crashed down on them in this very spot a year ago.

    “No trouble.” For her he would have showed up naked on the pier carrying a Volkswagen if she had requested it.

    ”Come with me, to the sea…"


    She smiled faintly.

    “I love this song.”

    Gabe just nodded. He had begged, pleaded, and practically threatened the radio DJ to play this song at 8:00 PM and was considering dropping the guy a check.

    “Me too.”

    She turned to him and the new haircut brushed the furry edge of the fawn-colored hood.

    It was that look that could mean anything.

    “I think,” she said after a pause, “that I’ve made a mistake.”




    Of course, there are so many ways to write this scene it’s not even funny. But I’m hoping that I’ve Illustrated that you don’t HAVE to dump all the background information in at the beginning. Instead, use it to entice the reader along.
     
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  10. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    True, but the word infodump usually doesn't come up unless it's something bad. Otherwise, it's infotainment. We all like to be entertained, but nobody likes to get dumped upon. ;)



    The trick to doing the "good infodump" is not to "dump" on the reader. It's easy to tell when a writer couldn't find a proper place to put the information and simply dumped it all in one spot, resulting in a monotonous mass that reads like a textbook excerpt.

    To avoid doing this, we should first look at the chunk of information and pick out the things that aren't necessary. If the reader has already seen bombed-out buildings and ruined cities, we needn't tell them where the war took place. Obviously, it took place HERE. Next, pick out the information that could easily be worked into the text. If the MC walked past a tattered US flag a few pages ago, that may have been a good point to insert a brief snippet about how the US was involved in the war. Now you have one less thing to cover in the "dump." Lastly, take the remaining information and try to organize it into a story of its own. Think of it like a short story -- REALLY short, with only the bare bones. Seek out a dead spot in the plot, preferably a spot that has something to do with the information, and insert it there. For example, if your MC gets locked up by rebel forces, he might start thinking about the war as he's whiling away the time. It's an excellent time to tell an old war story to keep us entertained. And don't forget to integrate it into the plot. For example, thinking about all his old war battles may inspire him to escape from the rebel camp. That way, the info serves a purpose.

    That's how I'd handle it anyway.
     
  11. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wow, it never ocurred to me that an author would do such a thing. At least I've never seen it done if they want to tell a good story. This is just another topic of show versus tell.

    I guess that's why I assumed infodump referred to technical information, or fake newspaper headlines to give an overall feel for what is going on in the world.

    Like what King did in The Stand with the reports made between government officials detailing the "Super-Flu". He worked a lot of information about the virus in along with the narrative.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes! Well put!

    So it really comes down to TWO related questions:
    1. When does exposition become an infodump?
    2. What do I do about it?
     
  13. Foxee
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  14. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    And it was quite a good one, Foxee.


    Also in response to that second question, you have a few possibilities:

    1. The information is unecessary, drop it.
    2. It's necessary, and can be worked into the story; see Foxee's post.
    3. It's necessary and can't be distributed; do the best you can to spice it up.
    4. There is probably at least one other option I'm forgetting.
     
  15. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is actually a novel that consists of one long infodump, but manages to make it work (Olaf Stapledon's "The First And Last Men"). And by "infodump" I do mean a monotonous mass that sounds like a textbook excerpt.

    Just to show the exception that confirms the rule.
     
  16. Richard Peevers
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    Yeah, in general I'd go for a steady drip, drip, drip of information. Tantalise your audience.

    That can be tough in some situations, though. Herge's Tintin book King Ottokar's Sceptre had a good solution--he had Tintin pick up a guidebook to the country he was going to visit. The next couple of pages were excerpts from the guidebook--it made for a really fun infodump.
     

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