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Avoiding info dump?

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Avoiding info dump?

Postby orena » Wed Apr 26, 2006 11:48 am

One of the problems I find with my writing is that I tend to create info dumps, paragraphs that are loaded with information about the story's world but do not contribute to the dialog or action in the scene. They jump out of the scene and distract the reader away from the general flow of the story. Yet we need to explain our worlds some how, and this can mean a lot of explanation if your book's world is very different then our real world. So how are some ways to integrate this world information, character backgrounds or just facts that are needed to understand the scene? How can we get this information into the story without creating a chunk that snaps the reader out of the scene?
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Postby Magus » Wed Apr 26, 2006 12:00 pm

I have a general policy that I adhere to: Anything that isn't needed in the story about the world and its like should stay outside of it. If you really want people to know this either thread it in with relevent and needed information, or place it in appendices. You might be able to reveal this information through dialog. In fantasy, there does tend to be a lot of travelling, and this takes time. I find that I want this time to be felt, not just lasting a few pages if it spans any number of days. You can give some relevence to this period of time by threading together discussions that could relate to the world at large, and be used to explicate its history and surroundings. But be careful doing this, because reader's will know when they're just being spoon-fed the backstory that holds no relevence at all, and characters commonly won't discuss what's common knowledge unless debating/arguing/remeniscing or something else along that particular train of thought.

You should learn, ultimately, how much is too much for the story. That's what appendices are for. Or, if sizable enough, maybe you could construct another story from the back information or to detail it.
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Postby aldan » Thu Apr 27, 2006 10:30 pm

There are several different ways, I believe, that you can handle this situation. The first is by way of doing as Magus has so delicately said... just drop it on your toe. Yes, it's painful, but you won't have it weighing your story down.

The second way is to adjust how you say it. Instead of dropping it into the story in clumps, you can simply do it by way of having a VERY young character asking about certain things until he/she gets an answer. This is a rather brazen way to do it, but it's a way to say what you might feel is essential to say, without slowing the story down to extremely.

The third way is one that I like to use - take the stories that bards tell, that mothers and old crones tell, that are used as examples to youths, and just say them with a few minor things assumed. Those minor things would be slowly (throughout the story) explained by way of showing how people are acting and reacting to certain situations.

An example would be if in the world there had been a hugely powerful dictator that had been overthrown. Those who overthrew him decided that they wouldn't risk having another such thing occur, so they decided that if any one person/country grew beyond a certain size, they'd become a target for knocking it back down to something more manageable by the rest of the countries/people. Of course, the governments would all discourage trying to act as a strong leader, and one way they'd do that is to hire bards and such to weave tales speaking of the bad things that happen when one person controls everything, and they'd do that on a more than governmental level. They'd have stories of households in which the overpowering father would be abusive to the children and wife, of a mayor living in luxurious comfort while the rest of the town struggled to survive, of the loss of freedoms that would happen when one person took over (which loss would indicate that the person who is in charge is trying to protect his power). As more and more of these stories come about, they will start to spawn even more, until they become almost "old wives' tales" in that everyone will know them and take their existence and meaning for granted.

So, how do you explain it in the story then? Start by having a bard sing a tale that goes a bit against the grain, in that the SINGLE hero wins out. The people who'd hear it would likely speak of how unrealistic it is for that to happen. The next story by that bard would likely be something along the lines of having several towns be wiped out by some powerful group of monsters on a town-by-town basis. The towns would end up being united by one person who has the brilliant idea to work TOGETHER to defeat them, and then they'd succeed in beating the horrid creatures. This would again work against the normal ideas, but only subtly, since there would already be knowledge in far past history of uniting to defeat a big bad guy. The way it'd be subtle is that one person would be the one to come up with the idea and then have to convince the others of its value. Later, there'd be other stories that would work along those same lines, until finally the person who'd been funding the recent bardic tales makes his move to take over. Sure, it'd be slow to develop, but then again, most stories are that way anyway.
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Postby Bread Butterbeard » Sun May 28, 2006 9:47 am

Both Magus and Aldan have excellent points and I would advise you to listen well to thier thoughts. I agree with both of them and would just like to stress to follow the old writers way of Showing and not Telling, something that you can ask Magus I tend to have a problem following.
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Re: Avoiding info dump?

Postby Fel_Editor » Fri Jun 25, 2010 6:18 am

It's not necessary to tell people about your world. Info dumps are acceptable in kids books and SFF with a comicky feel (warhammer type stuff, asian juvenile SFF) because kids like to read it that way. It excites their imagination because they're callow and haven't encountered such ideas before.

If you're writing for more experienced readers though it's better to just use the world to inform your characters and settings. Every time a char opens their mouth is a chance to reveal your background but not through info dumps. A char who argues against going to the authorities because they can't be trusted tells us more about their city than an author telling us outright that the city officials are corrupt. A char who argues that all people are inherently decent if you give them a chance tells us volumes about their blah blah rural idyll background. Mix that with a bit of mood and environment description and info dumps become unnecessary.

For example:
Char name: Skulkor
Occupation: runaway servant
Disposition: Untrusting, shifty, out for himself, argumentative
Hometown: Corruptia
Clothing: Shabby, concealing hood, concealed weapon
favorite food: dog meat roasted on the stick
Environment cues: dirty, wet, winding alleys, close, smelling, stinky, open sewers, shouting, beggars etc

There's no need for an info dump if you dribble this type of stuff out through your story. It tells you everything you need to know about the city of Corruptia and this guy's background. Also having this stuff gives you something to write about so you don't waste writing time coming up with ideas.
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Re: Avoiding info dump?

Postby Alex F » Fri Jun 25, 2010 4:45 pm

I agree with the majority here. Use dialogue, use description and if you need to get across lots of information then its is best to do so in (for example, dialogue) by weaving it as cleverly as you can into conversation, not making it too obvious that you're information dumping. Its better to have a character talk to another about a place or person and explain it through opinions and biases rather than a plain explanation. After all, if you were to ask someone where a certain room in a building was were you new to a place, the person you ask wouldn't necessarily explain it like a thesaurus would, they'd want to make it more personal like, "you'll need to go to the top floor in the lift round the corner, mind out for the doors though they stick, I've called the mechanic five times and he's still not done anything about it!" So automaticaly you've been told something about this particular building without having to explain out of context that the lift is in need of repair and its so much more interesting in that way and you've also added a little about the culture of the building with the slow mechanic.
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