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  1. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Are info dumps really avoidable?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by OurJud, Sep 3, 2017.

    My future-set WIP involves a new recreational drug, and I want to unload the details of it on the reader fairly early on.

    For now I've had the drug's developer do this via a conversation with my protagonist, and it makes perfect sense that he would do so.

    Is this fact enough to remove it from 'info dump' territory?

    In my case, it would seem odd and unnatural, I think, if my protagonist didn't ask what the drug did.
     
  2. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Yes , next :D

    the slightly longer answer is you avoid it feeling like an info dump by breaking it up and feeding the info in as the reader needs it not in one big wall of exposition
     
  3. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    If the protagonist legitimately doesn't know what the drug does and would legitimately be interested, then I wouldn't call this an info dump. It's just a conversation.

    I think "info dump" is a pretty value-laden term. It doesn't refer to every single time the author gives the reader information, at least not in my understanding of the term. I think of info dumps as times when the narrative is artificially interrupted in order to give information.

    So, yes, I think they're totally avoidable, and it sounds like you're avoiding one now!
     
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  4. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It all depends on how you do it. If we feel like the conversation breaks the logic of story to telegraph information directly to us, then, yes, you could end up with a stinky info-dump. But if the conversation slots naturally into the story you should be fine.
     
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  5. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    a classic sign of info dump in dialogue is when characters start telling each other stuff they both should already know , purely to relay that info the reader
     
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  6. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Well, happily, I suspect I'm concerning myself over nothing.

    Thank you, all.
     
  7. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I have a whole spiel on exposition in general :D but in this case, I think a very small trick I learned on another website would work better:

    Contrast. When explaining how one thing works, explain the thing in terms of how it's different from something else.

    The example that came from the person who first came up with this was

    Magnus was beginning to understand why the Donut Mages had invited him along on the quest. While their recipe for invisibility only require a few ingredients to cast, hauling a deep fryer up the Mountain of Insanity was not the most practical. His magic took more preparation, weighing the herbs precisely and making sure each tea bag was folded and pinned just right with the fabric on the bias for defensive spells and at right angles for pretty much everything else. But when push came to shove all he had to do was drop the bag into boiling water or chuck it into the nearest flame and Viola! they would be invisible.

    What other drugs would the MC already know about (that the developer would therefor have to distinguish this new one from)?
     
  8. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Have you ever read The Icarus Hunt By Timothy Zahn?
    You might give it a gander as the MC in that is a drug
    peddler, among other types of crime in a Sci-Fi setting.
    Zahn managed to give just enough about 'Happy Jams'
    that it didn't feel like an infodump. :)
     
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  9. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    This could be very useful because the answer is a fair few. I'll sleep on this. Thank you.

    Sounds very much like my bag. I'll go check a few pages on amazon right now. Thanks :)
     
  10. Kalisto

    Kalisto Senior Member

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    I honestly can't think of a single reason where an info dump is unavoidable, much less needed. When I started avoiding info dumps, it did two things for my writing. It had me think twice as to what information is necessary. Most of what was important to me as a writer, wasn't important to my readers. I personally needed to know the full history of all the cities my main character visits in the world, because that's what shapes that attitude of the individuals living there. But readers don't need to know that. It was much more interesting to them if I just showed them the people's attitudes towards one another.
     
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  11. NateSean

    NateSean Senior Member

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    A good rule of thumb is that if the information is necessary, it's not a dump.

    A lot of writers forget that stories are not TV. The writer has to paint a picture with words. To that end there are only a handful of ways information can be delivered.

    In my mind it's only an info dump if the story is slowed down to explain something that could easily be conveyed through a character's actions or dialogue.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2018
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  12. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Guardian-eating, tofu-reading dormivitus Supporter Contributor

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    @OurJud, I think your "infodump" is perfect. If I'm interested in a new drug (and I'm horribly ignorant, alcohol is my thing, but if...) I'm going to want to know what it's going to do to/for me, and who better to ask than my dealer (assuming I trust him and he's not just some shifty dude on the street corner). The key, as mentioned above, it to avoid making it just a vomit of words explaining what the drug does, make it a conversation between the customer and the dealer, perhaps comparing it to known chemicals.

    The other thing with infodumps is that they can be very non-dumpy if they're written in an interesting way. Think of the way Douglas Adams sets things up with excerpts from the Hitchhiker's Guide, or look at this from Hunter Thompson, explaining mescaline to the unitiated:

    Had he simply said "One thing I've learned is that it takes a while for even good mescaline to take effect, but it's worth the wait," the reader would have been bored to tears in one short sentence, but by narrating the flow of emotions, he makes the information part of the story.
     
  13. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If it reads like an info-dump, chances are it is an info-dump and could bore the reader. Dialogue is typically a very thin disguise for an info-dump.

    But that might be a minor issue if the rest of the story is good. Agatha Christie often ended her detective books with info-dumps of varying length. Ms Marple, for example, might sit down with a group of characters and be asked to explain how she figured it out.

    Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock, on the other hand, might only mention a clue or two that he picked up on when explaining how he figured things out.

    How complicated is the drug? When you say "unload", I suggest you condense the explanation down to its key components. Make it shorter if possible, letting the readers fill in the blanks themselves.
     
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  14. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    When it's essential information to the plot that's done well, in a timely and natural fashion, shown in an interesting way, it is called exposition.

    When it may or may not be essential information, though typically non-essential, done badly, timed badly, done in a boring and/or unnatural fashion, it is called info-dump.

    In other words, make sure it reads well and happens naturally. If it's interesting to read, then nobody will care one way or another :p

    Try the dialogue idea. If in doubt, consider if there're more interesting ways to show what the drug does, rather than directly tell the reader. It would make more of an impact and the reader will remember it better, and probably make a more powerful beginning. The easiest or most obvious way to do something is rarely the most interesting way.
     
  15. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I should mention, too, that I intentionally smear info dumps all over the place for the first draft. I find it's easier to have them standing there naked at first because the content that follows in the scene is usually dump free. Then it's just a matter of deleting or integrating them into the subtext during the editing phase.
     
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