1. A J Phillips
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    A J Phillips Active Member

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    Seeking advice on info dumping

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by A J Phillips, Aug 12, 2015.

    So I have a bad tendency of utilizing the tried-and-true info dump. That stagnant, wordy paragraph that simply tells the reader a key story element, as opposed to revealing it in a more colorful, attention-grabbing way. Info dumps are like the color of dirty dish water. One way I have learned to avoid it (and i am sure the most common) is to explain an element in the universe through a conversation. It takes away the formality of describing things and trying to sound eloquent but more times than not sounding boring as hell, and makes it feel more natural in the world. I know there are other ways around info dumping, showing and not telling, etc, just looking for a few more tips on not totally killing the vibe with this boring crap plaguing my story!
     
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  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It's tricky, for sure. And something I struggle with myself.

    The conversation gambit works to some extent, but only if the conversation is natural. People who talk like walking encyclopedias are not any better than a sedentary encyclopedia. Also, if one character is telling another character what the other character already knows, that doesn't work either.

    Lots of ways to convey backstory. Here are just a few that I've used.

    1) A prologue ...not an infodump prologue, but one that contains actual scenes of actual events happening before the main story takes place. In other words, it's a story at the start of a story. It can convey what happened in the past in an immediate way. This kind of event/character centred backstory shouldn't be dull.

    2) A character can tell another character a story about the past. Remember how Gandalf did the backstory in the BOOK? He told Frodo all about the ring, and Bilbo's involvement it it, over nearly an entire chapter. And because Frodo made an occasional comment, and the story was told in Gandalf's own voice, with his own emphasis and insight, it was anything but boring. It was a riveting tale, that ended with Gandalf leaning out the window, seizing Sam by the collar and hauling him into Bag End, then sentencing him to travel with Frodo as penance for his eavesdropping.

    As long as the story is told in a lively manner, with the teller's own voice (not the writer's) it works quite well.

    3) A character can think about or talk about something that happened in the past and give a personal slant on the issue. Instead of telling us what one army did to another army, introduce the topic with a character who fought on one side of the conflict. How does this character feel about the other army, and why? What is this character's personal stake in the fight? If his side won, how does he feel? What has he gained? If his side lost, what has he personally lost? What does he want to happen next?

    4) In general, the more you can filter through the thoughts and feelings of a character, the better. Info-dumps are not emotional. However, remembering the past is often very emotional for a character. Exploit that emotion whenever you can.


    I'm sure there are other ways to convey backstory as well ...I'm just not thinking of them at the moment.
     
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  3. A J Phillips
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    A J Phillips Active Member

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    Excellent insight sir. I could easily tell a piece of the world's story through an actual event with an actual character. Perhaps they were around during the founding of a new settlement, or the institution of a new law, albeit I am writing sci fi where nothing is as it is in real life. Thanks so much Jann :love:
     
  4. A J Phillips
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    A J Phillips Active Member

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    It's actually a segue into a topic I didn't even intend to bring up in this thread. My entire prologue (only about 1.7k words) is an info dump. But it's intentional. I picture it being read by Morgan Freeman. (lol) I have read books where the prologue is told in a fashion simply intended to get the reader up to speed on what transpired in the past, but comes off sounding info-dumpy. The one that sticks out at the moment is Children of Fire, where the story of a god of chaos' fall from grace is told in a few pages. So to me in these cases, the event is so grand and/or cataclysmic, that it can't be boring. Thus my dilemma.

    My prologue tells of an alien infestation that nearly eradicates humankind. Typical stuff. A benevolent alien races saves humanity and gives them the ability to 'hyper-evolve' and adapt to the new environment (mainly nuclear fallout from the war). Generations later the human genome mutates and people can now wield telekinesis. Earth is ruined, so most of humanity lives on Mars. There is a quiet war in the streets between telekinesis wielders, and a conglomerate faction is quietly building an army of them. My MC doesn't come into the picture untill 500+ years later where the story actually begins on Mars after city is built, mutation is prevalent, etc. I explain all this in info dump format but there is an air of tension and doom. But I also considered telling the prologue through maybe an ancestor of my main character. Do you think this would be a more potent method to tell of the past? Or maybe a character was frozen for 500 years and was there? In essence I am asking is there even a such thing as an intentional info dump, particularly in a prologue?
     
  5. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me. It comes down to what is needed right now.

    The idea is in a sense all stories I think info-dump to some degree. The difference is good info-dumping is so seamless you don't notice. Basically I think it comes down to the very beginning. Most readers have a moment. When they go like. "Is this story for me?"

    Info-dumping then is bad. Because it gives this impression that the book is more like homework then a story. Which is why you start with a hook. A hook that makes the reader want to know what happens next. Because then when you start telling the backstory or the needed context or the rules of the world. People aren't thinking "Ugh, when is this over?" They are instead thinking "Wow that makes sense. That is awesome! I want more!"

    So while yes it is nice to avoid inf0-dumping in general. You don't want to pause the story if you can avoid it. But if you find you do need to pause the story to info dump something. If you do it at a time when the reader wants to know. Then they will love it. For example. If a character explains the monster of the story. If before hand. It has everyone afraid. No one talks about it. It gets the reader going "What is this thing? I want to know!" Then if when you mention that monster it is an info-dump the reader is going to be fine with it. So timing is critical.

    If that makes sense?
     
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  6. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    Do something similar to what Assassin's Creed did - use your main character's ancestors to fill in the backstory. Try telling a short story in the prologue that occurs 500 years in the past, when you mention that these backstory events are all transpiring, from the POV of one of your MC's distant ancestors. Then, you can write occasional breaks in the story which are flashbacks from the POV of a later ancestor. Let's take a look at how you described the story, and I'll tell you what I mean.

    Sounds to me like the main focus of the story is this "conglomerate faction" building an army for this secret war, and your MC is caught up in the middle of it. This can be broken down into three parts:

    Ancestor A is one of the first humans to discover that he, and others, are gaining telekinetic abilities. The prologue/short story can be about Ancestor A, along with a small cast, learning about their new abilities, training themselves, learning the extent and power of their capabilities, and perhaps even laying a few ground rules for how they should be used. As more people learn about their abilities, they begin to use them for less and less "favourable" purposes...

    Flash forward a few generations...
    Ancestor B is a teenager living on Mars. The planet has been made habitable, towns and villages have begun to pop up, and it's a new life for a new generation of these "nova-humans". Things are going pretty well for Ancestor B, until he becomes involved in relations with certain peoples or clans which inadvertently places him on the "frontlines", so to speak, of this secret telekinetic war. Flashbacks dot your main story line, following Ancestor B into his adult years as this secret war expands and escalates around him and communities are engulfed by opposing leaders with ulterior motives.

    Whenever something of importance happens to your MC in the present ("present" of course meaning whenever the "present" happens to be in the main story), you can flashback to a parallel or relevant event in Ancestor B's life. This could make it really interesting, as you'd then have two main characters in different timelines, whose stories both develop and reveal themselves to the reader simultaneously, coming together to tell the whole story.

    The best part about this approach is that, if you so choose, it makes it much easier to write sequels (or prequels!). You could continue the story decades or even centuries further into the future, using your current MC's descendants as main characters in their own stories. Or you can introduce even more ancestors for flashbacks or prequels in future stories. You could make this idea into a franchise series, and just keep writing it for the rest of your life! :)
     
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