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  1. Safety Turtle

    Safety Turtle Senior Member

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    Trying to avoid info dump.

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Safety Turtle, May 4, 2017.

    If there's one thing I keep hearing that a writer should avoid in fiction, it's info dumping and I've tried to steer clear of this as much as I can.
    I have however reached a point in my story now where I find it hard to avoid.

    My main character has been dead for two years and "wakes up", a lot have happened in those two years and the world he knew has basically been turned upside down.
    He ends up fighting off a monster (something that didn't exist before) and passes out only to wake up in a bed with a physician watching over him.

    Now my issue is: wouldn't it be natural for the main character to ask what in the hell is going on?
    And seeing as the physician knows this, I feel like he should tell him which would be a lengthy piece of info.
    I feel that if he doesn't, then I fall into another cliche, that of "character knows important info but doesn't reveal it for the sake of plot".

    I may have misunderstood what an info dump is, but currently, I don't see how to get around the MC being caught up on all he's missed without it.
     
  2. GB reader

    GB reader Contributor Contributor

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    as the omniscient writer you are,
    list everything that has happened.
    list what the physician would know
    list what would be natural for the MC to ask for
    list what would be natural for the physician to tell
    list what the physician will not tell (because he forgot, choose not to tell because... Here you have creative options)
    list what your MC absolutely need to know at this point

    (Of Course you only have one list with ticked columns)

    You might have/want to introduce additional characters/info sources.

    Spread the absolutely needed dump into a good dialog.

    If possible you can let the recovery take some time, so that you can describe what is happening in your world interleaved.

    Keep the list(s), everything you left out will have to be told later on.
     
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  3. The Scarred Servant

    The Scarred Servant Member

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    You could have it that the character (Considering that he keeps passing out) is feeling a bit woozy, so while the Physician answers a few questions, they don't give him too much information right out the gate because in his state it could be overwhelming; allowing you to sprinkle information more evenly throughout the introduction stage of the story. You could also, instead of having it all explained to him, have him witness or note some important changes.. Maybe have it so that he reminisces on what he was told between transitions when he encounters something relevant.
     
  4. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, you are at risk of an info-dump here, but...
    1/ Yes, your MC will ask what's going on. But...
    2/ The physician will only tell him what he thinks is relevant.

    "Doc, what's happened?"
    "Well, you were found with lacerations to your upper torso, a depressed fracture above the right temple and considerable loss of blood. We've pumped around a gallon of blood into you, stabilised your fracture and treated your wounds. We're just keeping you in for observation at the moment; you should be free to go home within a couple of days."
    "Yeah, but what about the seven-headed monster that attacked me?"
    "Ummm, I think I'll consult with someone from psychiatry..." (Not..."Well, while you were dead, we had a meteorite storm and since then weird creatures with mutated features have been turning up, all claiming to come from downtown Burbank")
     
  5. Lemie

    Lemie Contributor Contributor

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    It's better if your MC gets to witness things for himself.

    Example:
    "It all started with that freak storm." TURMOIL "I really wish I could tell you more but you/I have to go"

    Your MC is left to fend for himself in this freak new world and the good doctor doesn't have to hold back on the information.
     
  6. Frostbite

    Frostbite Member

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    You could also give a very quick summary of only relevant things, and over the course of the story tell certain things. And even then, I think a short info dump in such a situation wouldn't be bad writing, honestly infodumping shouldn't be avoided like the plague; sometimes it's beneficial to give a short summary.

    A very recent case where I have seen some of the worst cases of info-dumping, that is somewhat comparable to your awaking-from-the-death after an apocalypse(?), was watching Van Helsing, on Netflix. The second episode was ONLY info dumping of what happened. As you can imagine that was a good example what NOT to do. If the doctor just describes enough to answer the question, you are fine. Even if it's a lengthy response.
     
  7. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    One of the hooks to pull a reader into a story is the discovery about the world and its characters. I have seen good authors use the info dump to their advantage by painting the picture in small strokes that eventually allows the reader to see more and more. Good historical writers will use this technique. Readers are limited in the amount of details they can absorb at one time, yet, they are limitless in wanting to know those details.
    Godspeed!
     
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  8. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    It does seem like a natural place for exposition. I think the key to avoiding a bad infodump would be to 1) only have the doctor give out relevant info, not entire backstories, and 2) have other things going on while he's talking - keep a good mix of actions and internal monologue in there, just like anywhere else. I also find it helps to have your POV character active in figuring things out as they're told, not just passively accepting the information, and realistically reactionary. "Then the nuclear power plant melted down ..." "That's where the monsters came from?" vs "Then the nuclear power plant melted down, and that's where the monsters came from."
     
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  9. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Is the information important to the story, and how much of it is important? Could you not have the character find out gradually, rather than all at once?

    Info dump is only info dump when information is relayed to the reader badly - poor execution, bad timing, irrelevant or seemingly irrelevant to the character and/or story, information for the sake of information. Otherwise, it's known as exposition, which is rather essential to any good book :bigwink: If it's lengthy but essential and this is the perfect moment for it and nowhere else, and it must be done all at once (all these are questions you should ask), then the way I do it is I actually just do a scene break or even chapter break. Essentially write out an entire flashback - in context, it shouldn't be confusing.

    As long as you make the information interesting to read, readers will forgive a lot.
     
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  10. Odile_Blud

    Odile_Blud Active Member

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    Personally, I like it whenever information is held and given to us throughout the story. It keeps me asking questions and wondering, where as being given all the information at a time doesn't really keep me at the edge of my seat. I'm not sure what you mean by the cliché of "character knows important information but doesn't tell for the sake of plot", but if you mean revealing more and more information as we read on, I'd say, that's not a bad cliché. That's something, at least for me, that makes the story more interesting to read.

    I think you can have another character give your character information and make it sound and not like an info dump. There's a way to do it. If he's giving it all to us as one big monologue (especially if it starts with the infamous "As you know...") then it's not going to sound naturally and it will definitely come off info-dumpy. But, if you have a natural exchange between the characters. With the uninformed character asking question, action and beats in between to keep the scene feeling real, it can work. It's all in how you do it.
     
  11. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think the "lengthy piece of info" is the issue. You don't necessarily have to explain a lot.

    I blinked at the doctor. "I think I must have been hallucinating. I thought I was attacked by the Stay-Puft man."
    "You were." The doctor glanced up from his clipboard. "Or possibly the Michelin Man. They do look similar."
    Buh? "Since when are advertising icons walking the streets?"
    He stood. "March of 2015. The news calls it a reality schism."
    "What the hell? What's a reality schism?"
    "Sorry, I was studying for my boards at the time; I never quite absorbed the details. Listen, I'm glad that you're feeling better; I'll check on you tomorrow." He snapped the pen to the clipboard and headed for the door.
    "Wait!"
    But he was gone.
    During my convalescence, I read every news magazine I could get my hands on, but the details never really got clearer. Something about physics and a new television technology, and now reality was sharing the city with the fictional. The day that I interviewed for a position as Roger Rabbit's valet and found myself offering my recommendations on fluffy-tail grooming, I realized that I had accepted it as the new normal.


     
  12. Quanta

    Quanta Senior Member

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    Does the reader already know about the changes that have taken place during those two years your character was dead? If so, be mindful not to repeat what is already known.
    This questions does invite a large info dump, because it is so vague. If your character asks more specific questions, they can only be about what he has encountered so far. This should make it easier to sprinkle in the details as he keeps on discovering all has happened.
     
  13. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I actually love the line, "What the hell? What's a reality schism?" because I asked exactly the same question :D This would be a fun universe to write about! Potentially full of copyright issues but still... wouldn't it!?
     
  14. QueenOfPlants

    QueenOfPlants Active Member

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    "It all started when Apple launched the first neuro-linked remote control, the iZap."
     
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  15. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Readers actually like not knowing everything at once. It's fun to read a book and have that tantalising prickling along the back of the arms when you start getting whiffs of something big, something bad, something crazy ... and watching that unfurl in an unhurried, authentic way during the narrative is hugely satisfying. That's what builds suspense, and it's what convinces us we are inside a real story. If you info-dump, I'm taken out of the story and reminded that you are the author, creating a fictional world, and you are self-conscious about me being a reader, and you've decided that I need to know certain things right now. Don't do that. Just let me be the MC's shadow, and discover things as the MC discovers them. Feel free to foreshadow and hint at things that the MC might not necessarily have access to, but don't think that just because we are reading your book we want to know everything immediately. That takes away all the fun. :)
     
  16. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    [​IMG]
     
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  17. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    I have not read other responses so here is my take on info dumps:

    1) Try to integrate them as naturally as possible into the action or conversations.
    2) Deal with them piecemeal, not as one lump of tedious exposition.
    3) Never have one expert explaining something to another expert that they should already know, only for the benefit of the audience. If someone explained my job to me in simplistic terms I would have two words for them.
    4) Which is why a layman or audience surrogate character is sometimes useful.
    5) The more your can tie you mcguffins into the general background of the story and the world in which they exist, the better. This way exposition seems like a seamless part of the world.

    They are my thoughts on the subject.
     
  18. Safety Turtle

    Safety Turtle Senior Member

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    Thanks for all the answers, have given me a lot to think about and learned quite a bit as well.

    This has without a doubt proven to be the most difficult part to sort out in my novel so far, but have chosen to go with the physicians assuming the MC has memory loss and will only explain the most important things, being sure that he will remember the details over time.
    At least that's my plan, for now, to move the plot along, can always revisit.
     
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  19. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think the key to getting information across, if you're going to use the physician as the source, is not to have the physician just standing there reciting facts, or even to have your character asking questions about them. Beware of trying to do too much with dialogue alone. It's the character's REACTION to the dialogue that's important, and will stick with the reader. The key is the emotional reaction. When the character hears these bits of news about what he's missed, what is his inner reaction? Get us into his head and BE SPECIFIC. If the news is such that he has no reaction, then leave it out. It won't sink in for the reader either.

    Put yourself in the character's place. You wake up and discover you've missed two years. What are your immediate thoughts. You discover that instead of President Obama, you've now got President Donald Trump. What is your reaction? You discover that your best friend has died. What is your reaction? Think it through, and imagine it happening to you. THAT is what will make this less of an infodump and a more seamless part of the story.
     
  20. Safety Turtle

    Safety Turtle Senior Member

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    "Wake me up in 4 years..." :p

    But you're right, and that's been my plan all along as I'm not one for just serving things up.
    My immediate thought is that being told you've missed 2 years of your life would probably be shock and denial, so that's what I'll be going for.
     
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  21. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. And keep in mind the physician will also be a person, and will have opinions on events as well. See what you can do to present the information in an opinionated way from the physician, as well. Opinions about the facts will not only give your main character more to react to, but will also lodge with the reader and make the facts more likely to stick.
     
  22. Minty Talons

    Minty Talons Member

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    Man you've gotta relax abit.
    There's nothing wrong with abit of expository dialogue so long as it comes in the form of natural sounding conversation.

    I read somewhere that you should try to pair it with an action. Like walking and talking or the doctor doing a checkup.
    That way you can break down the explanation into bitesize chunks.
     

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