speculative visionscience fiction and fantasy

Are infodumps necessary??

The place to talk about the craft of writing.

Moderators: Bmat, Qray

    Bookmark and Share
 

Are infodumps necessary??

Postby Dragonfleet » Tue May 09, 2006 8:49 am

In writing, a infodump, otherwise known as exposition, is a literary technique "plot device" for providing information to a reader in concentrated form. An overused example of this can be seen in Peter F. Hamilton's earlier work where he would include paragraphs upon paragraphs of quasi-scientific explanations for how a piece of machinery works! (By all means, correct me if I'm wrong on this explanation!)

On the flip side of the coin, some would argue that infodumps are a necessity for setting the premise of a plot or explaining the rich history of a character or nation and their relations with other entities.

The solution? It could be said that:
- Provide information by revelation through action and dialogue.
- Is it really necessary for the story? Is the author being so 'enamored of their worldbuilding and ideas and research that they felt they had to stop the story to explain them to the reader'?

What are your thoughts on this literary technique? Where can it be applied effectively?

I'll give an example of my own work where I'm having this problem. In the prologue to my current SF project, I have included about eight large paragraphs detailing the history of mankind from the years 2025-2150; this includes wars, advances in technology and cultural understanding, resolving energy shortages and dealing with environmental disasters (the things I thought would have an impact on my future Earth). Is this really necessary to have as a prologue or should I only include a very brief summary and later on have characters reflect on the past or have some kind of revelation?

*pouts* There just seems so much I want the reader to know as pivotal background before the story actually sets off but I fear that may just bore or irritate the reader. =/ So I'm pretty much at a loss on this sort of thing.
Last edited by Dragonfleet on Wed May 10, 2006 4:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
Dragonfleet
Casual Poster
Casual Poster
 
Posts: 196
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2005 9:38 pm
Location: Canberra, ACT, Australia
 

 

Postby Qray » Tue May 09, 2006 10:08 am

Is it written in a timeline format?
User avatar
Qray
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 8140
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2005 12:15 pm
Location: Down in Cognito
Blog: View Blog (49)
 

 

Postby Dragonfleet » Tue May 09, 2006 9:52 pm

Nope, not sure if that would explain what I intend to say. =S
User avatar
Dragonfleet
Casual Poster
Casual Poster
 
Posts: 196
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2005 9:38 pm
Location: Canberra, ACT, Australia
 

 

Postby Darukin » Sat Jun 03, 2006 9:54 am

Infodumps. Yeah, I tend to have problems with these too. It's hard to tell how much info you should place in your text, and it's difficult to present all the information you want to the reader effectively. On many occasions have I found that certain parts of my novel-project's text are a little dull with infodumps and you constantly need to edit, but the problem is that when creating a different world you feel the need to explain so much to pass on as much as possible about your world to the reader, as I'm sure is the case with all writers of fantasy/sci-fi. I would also be interested in better solutions though.
User avatar
Darukin
Casual Poster
Casual Poster
 
Posts: 158
Joined: Wed Dec 14, 2005 11:24 am
Location: Athens, Greece
 

 

Infodumps

Postby Vanguard » Thu Jun 22, 2006 4:41 pm

Although I see the technique widely used, I do not personally like infodumps. Instead, I favor giving the reader information through character dialogue or their thoughts. One reason I prefer using an alternating third-person point of view over the single first person narrative (for anything longer than a short story) is that it allows me to give information on a certain topic in bits and pieces from different character's words or thoughts without having to infodump. If other readers are anything like me, I get bored being bombarded with so much hard info at once and find myself skipping along the text to get by it and the alternating third person perspective helps alleviate that I think as well.

For instance, in my novel-in-progress, the protagonist's homeland has recently captured land formerly belonging to another character's homeland and I give out some information on the matter in bits and pieces from both the protagonist and another main character who hails from the other country.

The good news was that a row of shelters had been erected along the North Road leading to the Last Stop. The inn was so-named because it had once stood on the boundary between Celtonia and Bretonia before Duke Northampshire had seized the lands from Lord Westerly and expanded Celtonian sovereignty. The shelters were constructed for use as campsites during the harsh weather by the long-ranging patrols emanating from Caladon. Kwynn intended to make use of these shelters, as well, and wanted to make the first of them before nightfall lest they be forced to spend a night out in the cold open air.

Maggie DeBray owned and operated the inn after enduring the ridicule of building such an establishment out on the border of nowhere. She had the last laugh, however, as business was booming. The inn had become somewhat of an outpost for Caladon patrols watching the border with Bretonia and attracted a steady supply of thirsty guardsmen. Merchant traffic from Bretonia as well as from the further reaches of Celtonia took advantage of the food and other accommodations offered by the Last Stop. With Northampshire’s conquest of the lands to the northwest, the future looked even brighter. Kwynn guessed that eventually a town or city might sprout up around the inn, establishing it as a major hub of trade and commerce.

Without Zacharius as her guide in this unfamiliar land, she was essentially lost. Erica had no idea where the nearest village or settlement lay from where she was now, only that she and her master had been traveling north toward what were once Lord Westerly’s lands. It had been several days since they had seen another living soul. The harsh winter weather threatened to freeze her where she stood and the horses had run off with her supplies. Growing up on a farm, she was no stranger to difficult times, however, this seemed beyond hope. Holding her face in her hands, she rocked gently and resisted the urge to start sobbing again.

Three diffent tidbits referencing the same location scattered over a few chapters that serve dual purposes - to tell the reader what had happened in the area and to also clue the reader in that the characters are heading toward the same place.
User avatar
Vanguard
Just Registered
Just Registered
 
Posts: 7
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 6:06 pm
Location: New York, United States
 

 

Postby eleika » Thu Jun 29, 2006 2:42 am

I agree, the parcelling out of info is probably best.

In Science Fiction, if you're really trying for the hardcore science, then explaining how stuff works is justified by the genre. But with Fantasy, you dole it out as needed, and so that it augments, rather than supresses, the text around it.

For example, here's the beginning to my story:

They came upon Daita in the haze of late afternoon, when the fields blazed golden in the fading sun’s fire. Few people were about in the village at that time of day, but Nikka’s father called out friendly greetings to all. Daita was a small town, and he was well-liked. Even Nikka, who had good reason to fret, relaxed at the warm replies.

Then they were past it, and their own farm loomed ahead. The fields were bare at this time of year, with the harvest gathered and autumn fast approaching. The herd of gako, her father’s main venture, grazed on the remnants; in the distance Nikka thought she could see her brother, checking one of the great shaggy livestock for mites.

Gently tugging on the kurek’s reins, her father nudged the cart off the dusty road, slowing as it headed down the path toward the house. The slender brown beast hardly needed prodding: its long, curved horns arced back as it lifted its head, overcome with the familiar scents of herd and home. Seated next to her father, Nikka tensed as they drew close. She sighed, long and loud.

“Don’t worry, love.” He patted her back. “She won’t be angry for long.” Nikka raised an eyebrow, and her father winked. “She’ll come around if you give her time.” He drove the cart to the door, and helped her down.

Her mother stood in the doorway, scowling. Nikka stared at the ground.

“Wash up,” she snapped. “You’re a disgrace.”

She nodded once, and went inside without looking up.


I introduce the character and show her sulkiness and preoccupation with the impending punishment, while also telling the readers:
- The town's name
- What Nikka's father does for a living
- About a herd animal that is obviously a herd animal, but nothing that exists on Earth
- Similarily, about the riding beast they use in lieu of horses
- A bit about the local geography
- The time of year

And, I'd like to think, I also get people interested in the story and what's going to happen to poor emo little Nikka.
Eleika's Stuff: www.eleika.com
Rants and Reviews: http://delirium.nightgig.com
User avatar
eleika
Casual Poster
Casual Poster
 
Posts: 142
Joined: Sun May 08, 2005 10:26 pm
Location: Vancouver, Canada
 

 

Postby Grand Evander » Thu Jun 29, 2006 5:23 pm

I really like your approach, eleika, and am definitely interested in learning more about Nikka from the excerpt you've given.

Personally, I consider how far along I am in the story whenever I am tempted to use an infodump. When I originally began my WIP, I introduced my main character in the first chapter and then immediately began describing the history of the world leading up to that character's introduction. I found that readers would just roll their eyes and become disinterested because they didn't care enough about the characters or the world at that point to want to know its history. To remedy, I decided to be sparing with infodumps. Instead of paragraphs and paragraphs of history (which I personally enjoyed reading), I decided to write about a naive' character that learned about the world along with the reader through dialogue. I have my main character attend a lecture at a school and actually be chastised for not knowing basic political relationships. If the main character's in the same shoes as the reader, I believe it heightens his/her relatibility. It also avoids stating common knowledge, which can detract from the feasibility of dialogue, since the character would not have prior knowledge of what is being discussed. One of my writing teachers really enjoyed this technique.

I've also found that it's easier to use infodumps the further along I am in the story. My first task is to develop the character and the immediate world around him. Once the reader is reasonably interested in the story, I don't think they'll roll their eyes when the author inserts a paragraph or two to give further context.

I believe it's definitely important to familiarize a reader with a world to prevent alienating him/her when the characters begin discussing events or locations that the reader can't put into perspective based upon the information he/she has. That said, I believe infodumps are most effective when they are relevant to what's immediately occurring in the story, such as providing the history of a town when the characters are standing at its gates. Flow can be interrupted if the information seems to be too much of a digression from the story.
Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis
User avatar
Grand Evander
True Visionary
True Visionary
 
Posts: 1221
Joined: Wed Jun 28, 2006 5:52 pm
Location: New York, New York
 

 

Postby Dragonfleet » Fri Jun 30, 2006 8:18 am

Thanks for your thoughts guys. I really appreciate it. :)

I've almost finished the prologue of my current tech fantasy WIP. I don't think it carries any infodump per se but I think I include a character's thoughts on the immediate situation too much and feel that it should be explored over a number of chapters as he/she discover new things. I'll give an example: Say a character has a feeling that the war she is fighting in is not just coincidence, that somehow it was concocted to fulfill a specific goal by creating dissent in a country (and later would do something about such a conspiracy). Do you reckon it would be better to have said character to be all pro-war in one chapter and as she discovers the truths behind truths 10 chapters later her reality is shaken and she starts to question her loyalties? Or is it okay to delve into those feelings from the beginning?

Hmm I might post my prologue in the critique forum when I feel ready to show it.
User avatar
Dragonfleet
Casual Poster
Casual Poster
 
Posts: 196
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2005 9:38 pm
Location: Canberra, ACT, Australia
 

 

Postby Grand Evander » Fri Jun 30, 2006 10:29 am

I believe, in the specific example you've given, that it would depend how important the war itself is to the story. More precisely, it would depend upon whether or not the war is merely a vehicle to introduce the main conflict of the story or itself represents the main conflict.

If much of the story follows the female character in the war, such as describing the battles in which she participates and how she discovers the sinister conspiracy, I would say that the character should not be questioning the war in the beginning. The truth behind the war is then a mystery that the character explores, and planting suspicion in the minds of the reader at the beginning detracts from the suspense of the character's journey. An example of this would be a war fought to expand an empire by intentionally starting a border dispute.

If the war is, however, only a vehicle to introduce the main conflict, then I believe it's alright if the character has doubts about her loyalty. If, for instance, the king of a country fights a war so that enough people would die to resurrect a fallen god, then questioning the war only raises further questions that ultimately need to be answered. Knowing that the war was concocted for a specific purpose is not the essential secret to unraveling the story.

Ask yourself the following questions:

If my character (and thus the reader) knows this, what is there left to know?

How important is this knowledge in the big picture?

Would it be reasonable for the character to believe this at this point and why?

*I hope this is helpful.
User avatar
Grand Evander
True Visionary
True Visionary
 
Posts: 1221
Joined: Wed Jun 28, 2006 5:52 pm
Location: New York, New York
 

 

Postby eleika » Fri Jun 30, 2006 7:42 pm

Those are good questions, GE.

Also with infodumps, remember: Don't treat the reader like an idiot. If it's information they can figure out, then you might want to be more subtle.
Eleika's Stuff: www.eleika.com
Rants and Reviews: http://delirium.nightgig.com
User avatar
eleika
Casual Poster
Casual Poster
 
Posts: 142
Joined: Sun May 08, 2005 10:26 pm
Location: Vancouver, Canada
 

 

Postby Dragonfleet » Fri Jun 30, 2006 9:44 pm

Grand Evander wrote:I believe, in the specific example you've given, that it would depend how important the war itself is to the story. More precisely, it would depend upon whether or not the war is merely a vehicle to introduce the main conflict of the story or itself represents the main conflict.

If much of the story follows the female character in the war, such as describing the battles in which she participates and how she discovers the sinister conspiracy, I would say that the character should not be questioning the war in the beginning. The truth behind the war is then a mystery that the character explores, and planting suspicion in the minds of the reader at the beginning detracts from the suspense of the character's journey. An example of this would be a war fought to expand an empire by intentionally starting a border dispute.

If the war is, however, only a vehicle to introduce the main conflict, then I believe it's alright if the character has doubts about her loyalty. If, for instance, the king of a country fights a war so that enough people would die to resurrect a fallen god, then questioning the war only raises further questions that ultimately need to be answered. Knowing that the war was concocted for a specific purpose is not the essential secret to unraveling the story.

Ask yourself the following questions:

If my character (and thus the reader) knows this, what is there left to know?

How important is this knowledge in the big picture?

Would it be reasonable for the character to believe this at this point and why?

*I hope this is helpful.


Those are good questions and yes you were very helpful. ^^

The example I gave is actually both of those conflicts and more: a war against rebels in neighbouring countries, conflict within an country's political system and the main female character dealing with a genetic gift which makes her a living weapon for the state. IMO since this is a novel I think it would be best to concentrate on the protagonist's feelings first and then tie in the two conflict themes later on. Wouldn't be much of an adventure if it was all jumbled together. :P There's also more things I could add to this example but I don't want to spoil it. ^^ Oh I love brainstorming. :)

Anyway I hope I haven't strayed too far off topic here, I just wanted to get this out in the open. :P
User avatar
Dragonfleet
Casual Poster
Casual Poster
 
Posts: 196
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2005 9:38 pm
Location: Canberra, ACT, Australia
 

 

Postby Darukin » Thu Jul 06, 2006 3:50 am

Great points, and the ideas conveyed here were very useful to me, thanks. I went through much of my writings and removed all the infodumps and now the read is much more lively and even more effective, using methods discussed. It was actually much easier than I thought. And true, something we must all remember as you mentioned Eleika is that the readers are not idiots and we shouldn't treat them as such. They can pick up on stuff more easily than we may think.

Which concludes, I don't think infodumps are really neccessary, even in science-fiction which is what I'm attempting right now, although it's harder with science-fiction.
User avatar
Darukin
Casual Poster
Casual Poster
 
Posts: 158
Joined: Wed Dec 14, 2005 11:24 am
Location: Athens, Greece
 

Next

Return to General Writing Discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests

cron