1. Jefferson27
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    Jefferson27 Member

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    "Infodump" - not always a dump?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Jefferson27, Nov 12, 2011.

    Now while I find most of the criticism about what is and is not an "infodump" to be on target, I think possibly it goes too far in terms of what is in the minds of certain people. I am aware that I am taking the devil's advocate position (again) on here, but sometimes so called "additional" information is a positive to a book and not a negative. I think like most everything, it depends.

    The general rule is basically to ask first if it is entirely needed? and then, only if it is to show instead of tell wherever possible.

    But sometimes when I am reading or writing, the text seems to fall somewhere between, or even completely informational based, "telling" and not "showing". However, it is interesting while providing framework for the story, even and especially through the "additional" information.

    While I must admit I don't always think in the terms of "infodump" when I am reading, one author's work that surely comes to mind as one that some may convict as a repeat offender of this would be the late Douglas Adams. While at times he went too far even for me, I enjoyed most of the so called "excess" information and tangents he included in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. They were interesting, comedic, and generally aided to the feel of the book. Heck, they were a large part of the book. Which hits at my point where in certain books, theses information/substance based parts CAN add to the book's quality, and should be seen as doing just that, and not as something that should be avoided. More so something that should be used with careful application. Or at least done well.

    Of course by definition the term infodump is a negative one, so I am not defending cases where unneeded info is put forward in a less than appealing fashion or where the book would clearly be better off without it, so certainly no need to post same ol' same ol' replies about that type. I am instead interested here to discuss the wrongful demonizing of substance and interesting information put forth that actually adds to a story, instead of taking away from it, yet the term infodump may still be applied by some to those.

    Do others here feel that way? Do you know what I am referring to?
     
  2. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    I agree.

    Adam's digressions were satirical, relevant, and hilarious - they made the book.

    The advice: "Show, don't tell" - is terrible. There needs to be a balance. Of course, writers can go into long and unwieldy descriptions of exactly what happened, but for the sake of pacing, telling is much easier. For Hitchhiker's, Adam's style is perfect. However, his style would not work for, say, Crime and Punishment or Lord of the Rings. Every story needs unique style in order to convey all its meaning.
     
  3. Jefferson27
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    Jefferson27 Member

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    I wouldn't go as far as saying the "show, don't tell" rule is terrible; I actually think it can be very helpful. Especially for beginners, or in a lot of cases for everyone. Just not in every case 100%.

    I was speaking more about sections of certain books that could be interpreted as an "infodump" by many and therefore believed to be a negative, when instead they are a positive. And if those who think otherwise did not take well-intentioned advice misguidedly enough to believe so stubbornly in a certain way, they would be able to see that as well. Like the Adams example, and of course many others.

    Glad to see that you enjoyed Adams as well. :)
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree, too. An infodump is bad because it's boring for the reader, presenting information in indigestible chunks - at least, that's what people around here keep saying. But actually, what we should be avoiding isn't infodumps, it's boring writing. Not all infodumps are boring as the Douglas Adams example proves.

    Another point I'd like to emphasize is that readers - most of them, anyway - have a surprisingly high tolerance for infodumps. They'll read a couple of paragraphs of infodump at least before they say "Wait a minute - this is boring." This is especially true if the paragraphs are well-written and are not jarringly different in tone or style from the narrative that surrounds them, and the information they contain is interesting. There are no signposts in a good writer's narrative that say "Warning: the next paragraph is an infodump, so skip it if you don't want your eyes to glaze over." If the infodump is well managed, the reader will have read it and be onto the next piece of narrative before he even realizes that he just read an infodump.

    On this forum, readers read critically, much more critically than most casual readers read novels. And unfortunately, in my opinion, a lot of readers on this forum have developed a powerful knee-jerk reaction against anything resembling an infodump, and they start complaining about even one short sentence of exposition. Were they bored by the piece? I doubt it. If they were reading casually, they probably would never have noticed the infodump. But they're being critics, and they're not criticizing using the right standards. It's not infodumps that are bad; it's boring writing that's bad.

    So if the writer manages the infodumps well, not making them long enough to slow the story down, not calling attention to them with drastic changes of writing style, and generally not jarring the reader or causing him to yawn, then I say the infodumps are acceptable. If they're especially interesting, they may even be desirable.
     
  5. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have nothing against large pieces of information, if it's well written and relevant, but I still have one advice against: don't start the book with it! get the story started first, explain later, and not everything at once. Pages and pages of info-dumping can be quite tedious.
     
  6. Jefferson27
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    Jefferson27 Member

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    I'd agree with most of that. Although my aim isn't to develop writing that just passes "casual" reading, and the proper type of information put forward in the proper situation will pass the proper critical reading as well as the casual.

    The one part where I seem to differ from the majority, is that I can find learning about information often as intriguing, interesting, even more so than a car chase scene for instance. Especially when it's put forth with truth in an intriguing way. Information, commentary about the world, about how people live their lives, the true nature of the universe and humankind can be more interesting and infinitely more meaningful than any action scene.

    Personally I think people are wise to get away from the term "infodump". It's lazy and misused. As touched upon by the two posters above, correct criticisms of parts labelled "infordump" is not because it's informational, it's because it's put forward in the wrong way. It's bad writing. And poor structure, bad writing, and boring writing can all take place as easily in conversation and action as it can in sections where information is put forward or commented on.

    In the end, it's about finding the right fit for each part of your story, and the kind of book you want to write. Not to mention how good of a writer you are.





    .
     
  7. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Infodumps and tangents are two completely different things. Adams and Pratchett often go off on tangents for the sake of entertaining the reader, not to give them a long, boring lecture on something "important". That's why they get away with it. Reading is entertainment; if it's entertaining, the writing works.
     
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  8. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    A nicely caught distinction that nonetheless may not paint the whole picture.
    The thought processes (conscious or otherwise) of two different fantasy/sci-fi writers:

    Notadams: I have laboured over my imagined world for months. There's not a chance that that effort will go unrecognised. I must get it all down. I'm a nerd; my readers are nerds: I imagine a fifteen page treatise on the mechanics of my universe will do the job nicely.

    Adams: I have laboured over my imagined world for months. There's not a chance that that effort will go unrecognised. I'm a vivacious and lively fellow, if somewhat nerdish, so I fancy various tangential stories, sundry witty asides and divers digressions will give me the chance to communicate all that stuff.

    As you say: if it's entertaining, it's fine.
     
  9. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I don't really think I can add to this, but I'd just like to highlight how right he is.
     
  10. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    There's a difference between giving information, or dumping information. If information is given in a manner that will hold the reader's interest, it's not an info dump. If the author is unable to give information in this manner, the result will often be an info dump. In that sense, info dumps are the mark of the mediocre writer.
     
  11. Jefferson27
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    Jefferson27 Member

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    Sounds like most of us are on the same page then. Reassuring I suppose, although conflicting views are sometimes more productive. Not that I would ever encourage conflict or anything . . . :)

    One bit about tangents and infodumps being "completely different things". That would imply no overlap, which obviously is incorrect. Of course sections that often add information not totally relevant or crucial to the plot can be called infodumps(sometimes correctly) while also being tangents. The two terms are 100% not mutually exclusive as anyone with a working knowledge of both mathematics(probability term) and english can see. However they are not one in the same either, and I will give you the benefit of the doubt that that is what you meant. So no need to dwell on it then.

    P.S. And of course the quality of the writing matters. It goes without saying for the most part, although pretty sure I said it just to be clear.
     
  12. rainshine
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    rainshine Senior Member

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    Hi
    I didn't realise what info dumping was, until reading the Eragon series where an entire sub plot was dumped within a speech, interesting though it was it could have been done better, either through a dragons story, or hints and clues through the book. boring lazy and not thinking about the audience. But learned from him, and he is a great master in that sense.
     
  13. Gfire
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    Gfire Member

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    I think the plot and backstory for Eragon was so generic that it makes it worse to infodumb. If the information is more interesting, it can be easier to get through. In general, though, I'm fairly tolerant of infodumping since I like to hear about lore and that type of information, but usually when it is because there is just so much information to get through, not because the author was too lazy to spread it out throughout the book or something like that (which I'm not accusing anyone in particular of doing.)
     
  14. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Eoin Colfer sometimes takes the "slide information in bits and pieces" thing a little too far, and often goes of on little detours(who the heck cares that Artemis' phone can hack into a millitary complex, or the exact circumstances of Trouble Kelp acquiring his unfortunate name? They have no relevance to the plot, unless a military complex pops up in Book 8 or something, in which case, excellent foreshadowing).
     
  15. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Active Member

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    I've actually recently read two books each of which is at opposite sides of this. Pretty much the polar opposites.
    One is Tower of Ravens by Kate Forsythe. I had to force myself through this book. The first half is info dump, and it's not short.
    The actual story doesn't start until three quarters of the way through. This is bad infodumping. Lots and lots of text that explains the world, but has no relevance.
    For example, there is literally no need for me to know that the main character stuffed her vagina with pine needles to stop her herd from noticing she was having her second period.

    The other book, is The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson. This is, as I've already said, the polar opposite. I don't think there's anything in that book
    that would even constitute an infodump. You learn everything you need to know about the world and there's not an unnecessary word, let alone an unnecessary paragraph.

    Brandon Sanderson is proof that you can do it without a huge block of text. You don't necessarily get the information straight away, but you do get it. All of it.

    I personally think you should aspire to avoid infodumping. True, as some have said, there are people who aren't fazed by it. But is that because they're okay with it, or because
    they're conditioned to read it? Information is necessary, but you don't need to assault the reader with it all at once.
     
  16. Warde
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    Warde Member

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    I'm pretty new here, but I think a significant part of the problem might also be that a lot of what is posted for review here is first chapters. Unless absolutely necessary for your chapter to make sense, giving readers extra information about how your world works in chapter one is almost always a mistake (with the usual caveats for people whose writing style makes it work). Chapter one is for getting a reader hooked on your story, you've got the rest of the book to build the world for your reader.

    It took me ages to realize this because my instinct was to build the world and backstory in chapter one then move on to the body of the story. It's easy to forget how comfortable readers are with not really understanding how x and y work, at least for a while. As a reader I'm generally happy to suspend my confusion on the assumption that things will be explained in more detail at a later point. Yet as a writer I automatically want to avoid making my readers do this (instead bogging them down in dry exposition). As a result, when I review, I tend to harp on about infodumping in the hopes that whoever I'm reviewing can shortcut past the 10,000 chapter one rewrites I end up doing...
     
  17. rainshine
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    rainshine Senior Member

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    I totally agree with Warde, also I dont at all mind the phrase info dump, I found it so helpful in learning about writing, along with the words show dont tell and active voice, are all phrases that I would have loved to hear at age 15, when this information wasn't available our English teachers just didn't teach it, they are just words but words that enable so much learning.
     
  18. digitig
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    I think it is terrible especially for beginners, because they end up judging other writing by it (thinking that excellent writing is bad because it breaks the "rule") and because it potentially spoils their own writing for life. As fas as I can tell, the original version of the rule was Flannery O’Conner's observation that “Fiction is very seldom a matter of saying things, it is a matter of showing things”. That is sensible, but it's a very far cry from "show, don't tell".
     
  19. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    In other words: if we enjoy it it's not an infodump; if it bores us it is.
     
  20. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou THANK YOU!!! :)
     
  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is exactly right, and it is also important to remember that they are writing humorous stories, and presenting this sort of thing with the dry wit that characterizes their humor is entirely different from presenting large dumps of information in a work that is not meant to be humorous.
     
  22. rainshine
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    rainshine Senior Member

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    My own writing at 15 was bad, really bad, and my sister in law's writing is at that level now. She doesn't know the rules. While I understand and I am opening my mind a little to digitigs point of view, to leave someone without knowledge, on the basis that they will self improve, I dont know.
     
  23. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't believe that people should be left "without knowledge, on the basis that they will self improve". I just wish the "knowledge" they were given were accurate. All of the standard taboos that are fed to novice writers -- telling, adverbs, passive voice and so on -- are in the language for a reason. Novices shouldn't be taught never to use them: they should be taught to recognise the effects that they have (positive as well as negative), and when they are or are not the right tool for the job. And that involves teaching them more, not less: you'll miss the most important uses of passive voice unless you at least have a feeling for the end-weight and information flow principles (you don't have to be able to name them!) which are rarely taught on creative writing courses but which are pretty basic stuff to linguists.
     
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  24. rainshine
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    rainshine Senior Member

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    hi digitig
    "you'll miss the most important uses of passive voice unless you at least have a feeling for the end-weight and information flow principlesy"
    thankyou, that sounds interesting, I see where I lack knowledge on that area, can you elaborate more, or direct me towards a book or a website?
     
  25. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    They are not complicated. There are three main principles that decide the normal order of information in a sentence:
    • Active voice: the subject of the sentence is the agent performing any action;
    • End weight: the subject is usually a simple phrase (any long, complicated phrases get pushed to the end of the sentence); and
    • Information flow: the start of a sentence is usually something the reader/listener already knows about (or a dummy "it"). New information comes at the end othe sentence.
    Any of those principles can be violated, and the effect will be to emphasise the thing that is out of place.

    The trouble is, those principles can contradict each other in ordinary, everyday sentences. For example, in the common example of passive voice:
    The bill was paid by an anonymous benefactor.​
    That goes against rule 1 (the bill isn't doing anything but it's the subject -- passive voice). It's in accordance with rule 2 but there's hardly anything in it ("the bill" is slightly simpler than "an anonymous benefactor" because it doesn't include an adjective). It is definitely in accordance with rule 3 because the listener (presumably) already knows about the bill but doesn't know before this sentence who paid it.

    You can reverse all of those with the active voice:
    An anonymous benefactor paid the bill.​
    Now we're good on rule 1, bad on rule 3, and rule 2 still doesn't have much to say.

    The upshot of all of that is:
    • the first version is slightly clearer (because of the information flow) and puts a bit of emphasis on the bill (because it's out of place according to rule 1); and
    • the second version is slightly more dynamic (because of the active voice) and puts a bit of emphasis on the anonymous benefactor (because he/she is out of place according to rule 3).

    This is a case where I would say the active and passive versions are equally good but have slightly different effects.

    Try the same thing on the example Strunk and White give to warn against the passive:
    My first visit to Boston will always be remembered by me.​
    That fails all three principles. It's not (just) the passive that makes that a bad sentence: the information flow is wrong and the weight is at the beginning instead of the end.

    Try some of Strunk and White's actual writing (I'm not sure which of them it was, but I suspect it was White):
    The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.​
    Fails on 1 (passive voice). Succeeds on 2 (because they've done the right thing and broken their rule to "keep related words together" and have moved "that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place" away from "the adjective" and have placed it after the verb). And it succeeds on 3 because the reader already knows about adjectives; the fact that a particular type hasn't been built -- the new information -- is at the end. I think the information flow is the important thing for the writer here, because the likely alternative would be "Nobody has built the adjective that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place" which is still fine on principle 2. The author has broken three of his rules (passive voice, related words not together and the statement not being in a positive form) in order to get the information flow he wanted. And that's a good thing, because it was to get the effect he wanted.

    I'm not suggesting that writers should analyse every sentence in this way (I had to, to pass exams!) but if a writer is worried about a passive in something they have written then I think it can certainly help to be aware that it's not the only "rule" in play.
     

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