Info Dumping

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Last month while I was at a critique group, before I began to read my chapter out loud, I asked for them to look for Info Dumps. When I was finished I asked if anyone noticed any. Each person shook their head and said no. Phew, my little plan worked.

I had actually inserted a ton of info into the scene, but no one even noticed. The reason for this is because I turned it into a conversation between two and then three people.

I will describe what an info dump is.

Info dumps are chunks of information “dumped” into the story to bring in back story or information. They usually stop the story and interrupt the flow. They are often author footnotes that the author feels the reader needs to know. More often then not, it doesn’t sound like the character and feels like information shoved into where it doesn’t belong. The reader might begin to daydream or think “why is the author telling me this now?” Blah, blah, blah. An Information Dump occurs when background information is not interwoven with the narrative. Scenes in a playscript are often introduced with a brief information dump to explain the situation the characters are in. Blah, Blah, (have I lost you yet?) In serial television dramas, information dumps often appear in episodes as a brief montage of scenes from earlier episodes, prefaced with the phrase “Previously on [name of series]”. blah, blah, blah (Half of this paragraph are my words, other half was found in Wikipedia)

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“What did you just explain to me?” the person sitting at the computer asked with glazed over eyes.

“An Info Dump,” I replied.

“What is an Info Dump?”

“When the author crams in a bunch of unnecessary detail that makes the reader bored to death,” I answered simply.

***See, isn’t that basically what I needed to say?***

??? How to fix Info Dumps ???

* For me the best way to fix this problem is to include large amounts of information into a dialogue or better yet, an argument between characters. This way, characters can debate and you can sprinkle in inner dialogue and body language to show the reader more details about the scene. Of course, don’t have the conversation last forever either. Interrupt the characters, etc. The scene will then become fast paced and, like the above example with my critique partners, people seem to not even notice.

* You can also sprinkle bits of information and knowledge along the way so it doesn’t become one long piece of narrative.

* You can have the info dump become a problem between characters that brings in tension. The scene and characters can change and react as more bits of information and backstory are revealed.

* Try introducing an uninformed character. This person comes into your novel mainly to uncover details and history. You can bring information into your story by having your characters explain things to this new innocent person.

* Relate the information to what is currently going on in the novel. Have your tangents be current in the storyline. Maybe something happens to your character that sparks a short memory therefore causing a conversation starting with “remember when…”

Sharing information in your novel is a balancing act between giving the reader enough information that they don’t become confused — and not giving them too much that they become frustrated and bored.

To illustrate my point, here is a tidbit from my work in progress.

*******

“Sage?” He was looking at me with eyebrows raised.

“Huh?” I asked. “Did you ask something?”

He rolled his eyes, “I asked if you have seen many wolves when you’ve been out.”

“Oh.” I cleared my throat and sat taller in my saddle. Good, small talk is good. “Not lately, but I’ve seen clues that the packs are growing bigger.”

He nodded. “Do you remember after all the lawsuits and debates, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995?”

I shrugged and he continued, “it was before we were born, but I remember my Dad cursing those dang wolves. He would always get a healthy check from Defenders of Wildlife from their compensation fund. His livestock decreased by 50% because of the wolves.” He adjusted his wide brim cowboy hat.

I smiled. I always loved it when he did that.

He shook his head not knowing I was watching him. “And that was years and years ago. I worry that they have a monopoly over the food supply.” He continued, “Did you know. . .”

I settled down into my saddle. Whenever he started a sentence with “did you know,” it was a sure sign that you’d learn something cool, so might as well get comfortable. Joe knew a lot about a lot of things, especially those issues he was passionate about. He was always reading from the countless books of my fathers. I knew this was going to be a long debate or lesson in wolves.

“. . . the gray wolf is one of the world’s most well researched animals, with probably more books written about it than any other animal  I found all these awesome old black and white sketches of wolves in Yellowstone before 1926. Because, you know, that’s when the last wolf was killed in Yellowstone.”

“Hmm, interesting.” I said wondering where he was going with this.

His eyes lit up when he realized I was kind of contributing to this conversation. “Well, when the wolves were no longer here, the elk population boomed.” He lifted up his hands and spread them out. “I mean so large that they unbalanced the local ecosystem.”

“That’s weird, how so?” I asked.

“The herds grew so large that when they grazed over the meadows and river beds, they trampled over all the new-growth and small trees. So in the end, that’s why the decision to reintroduce wolves won out.” He was quiet for a while as we watched night drip around us. “So in essence, wolves have the power to change the land. They are an apex predator, only humans are their real threat. But I am afraid, because now — there are more wolves then there are humans.”

 *******

This was also pre-edit. I will slim even more of this conversation to just get to the bones of the information. I left it in so you could see the full conversation. I would love to hear if any of you have other ways that you avoid the info dump. 🙂

Have a good day 🙂

-Tara

Thankful

During this weekend of Thankfulness and full heart, I reflect on what I am most grateful. The things which fill me with immeasurable joy are my husband, children, family, and friends. I know I can be a selfish creature, artists usually are. I have had many discussions at length about how the life of an author is all consuming and can leech from relationships if not placed in check.

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To illustrate my point, here are a couple examples:

While sitting at a restaurant on a long overdue date, my husband was telling me about his day and an exciting new client. Beside us sat a group of women who were obviously on a girls night out to escape from their daily lives. I found myself in the middle of two conversations. Nodding blankly at my husband, while listening to the fascinating dialogue between those women. Their dialogue was snappy, concise, and hilarious. My mind began to file away bits and pieces of their brilliant dialogue to use for future reference for a novel. My poor husband stopped talking and that is when my eyes focused on his grim set mouth.

“You aren’t even listening,” he said.

“I’m so sorry, please start over,” I replied as the women’s conversation vanished in a poof.

“No, the moment is lost now.”

And so it goes…

Another selfish experience was when I asked my husband for a kiss. I never need to ask for kisses, he just does. Anyway, he leaned in and brushed his lips against mine. I pulled back. “Add a bit more passion,” I said. He didn’t need to be asked twice. The kiss deepened and he placed one hand around the small of my back and another behind my head and pulled me in close. Good, I thought. But, hmm… what would happen next in the scene?

Oh I am terrible, I know. I wasn’t kissing my husband, I was recreating a scene for my work in progress. There must be some corner in heaven or hell reserved for people like me. I pulled back again and left my husband short of breath.

“Okay, now, graze your thumb over my lips.”

He lifted an eyebrow, but did as he was told.

“Not like that, maybe slower,” I said. I closed my eyes and my wonderful husband created the scene perfectly and even enhanced a few things. I mean, it was fantastic and exactly how I had imagined the scene in my novel to unfold. “Thanks!” I said, jumping back out of his fervent arms.

“Wait! You can’t just… leave me like this.”

I giggled and ran to my computer to write a scene that involved kissing and grazing a thumb over lips.

And so it goes…

My poor, wonderful husband and family are guinea pigs for my novels. That is so wrong, but the selfish part of me says it’s alright. I gather inspiration for love, joy and happiness from my family and loved ones. I gather inspiration for hate, anger, and hurt from the news, strangers, and painful memories. I grab bits and pieces for character development from people I admire or people I don’t care too much for. Then I place them into the puzzle of my novel along with the pieces of setting, theme, voice, and storyline.

I have really tried to be more thoughtful and conscious in my relationships. It is easy for everyone to get swept away in things that distract us from one another. Everywhere we turn, there are interferences with social media, TV, media, and for an author, it is the writing itself that puts you apart. I find myself constantly nagging my teenager to put down her smart phone and be with the family. I realized I was doing the same thing, only with stories in my head. Sometimes I have to consciously tell my mind to not focus on my fictional story and live my non-fiction life.

Above all, I am thankful for loving kindness from my family.

I am thankful to be a creator of life and art.

I am thankful for inspiring people and in turn, thankful that I may inspire others.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

-Tara