Take A (Info) Dump

Well, maybe that last one...
I’m dumping right now.

Info dumps are when you throw a ton of background or description or whatever at a reader to establish a character.

It’s boring to read, and readers can’t remember all of it – so don’t do it.

But, but, but… You have a whole new world on Planet Zena that you built, and we need to know where the bathrooms are! The butler not only did it, but he was the illegitimate child of the homeowner, who sent him off to boarding school!

I know. I get it.

You have to get the information conveyed and you don’t want to just have the reader going along without knowing things. And some great movies and books have HUGE, NOTICEABLE info dumps! (Jurassic Park, one of my favorite movies, has some. I still love it, and I bet you will spot them now that I mentioned it.)

The trick I use is to (A) break the BIG dump up into smaller pieces and (B) have it discussed between characters at a later time. (Readers don’t need everything in chapter one.)

That’s my main method – conversations – cos my characters talk a lot. (See how to write dialog, HERE

https://savvystories.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/writing-good-dialogs/

You can also dribble the information in as part of a description of something else (you’re discussing Venice and describing its beauty, and tie it in to the MC’s hometown or something. That segue allows you some leeway). Once you discover your own comfortable way to do it, you’ll be over the hump and not look back. So it’s worth it to experiment up front and ask for suggestions from other informed people who read your stories, a.k.a. critique-ers, or “crits.”

To make you feel better, allow me to share one of my own foibles. Allison Maruska, author of The Fourth Descendant (Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T100YB0/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8 ) took pity on me in a critique group and explained what was wrong. I didn’t figure it out all by my lonesome.

I had a HUGE info dump in The Navigators. Several, in fact. One character was keeping files on most of the other characters, and he was going through them as a device to tell the reader about these people. It was info dump after info dump. Crits ate me alive. I took it all out and found that over the rest of the 30-something chapters, what was needed got in.

How?

I made the big info dump into separate files, one per character, and looked at them when I needed some descriptive moments. Little dumps, people don’t care about. The files were like reference documents for me.

One such little dump was about a privileged college girl who had a big shot father. I took a few hundred words and told everybody all about her and her dad.

Yawn.

The fix? There were a few.

First, I simply had two guys talking about her. One mentioned that the other would have no shot with her, that her daddy was a big politician with eyes on the Florida Governor’s mansion and eventually the White House, and that no guy like him was going to be good enough for that kind of girl or that kind of dad. (SPOILER: It wasn’t true, and the guy ended up with the girl in the end). Little opportunities like that allow you squeeze in the back story you need. Without looking like it. This added tension (the guy was in love with her) but also explained why her dad was acting the way he was in the story.

The rest of the dump came in when a reporter interviewed the girl. She mentioned that although she could have gone to college anywhere, she stayed in Tampa to kind of watch out for and be close to her dad (her mom had died).

Awww…

Sneaky, huh? Worked like a charm, too. Try it.

Average looking? My mom doesn't think so.
He looks like he just might know something, carrying that computer around, doesn’t he?

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.

12 thoughts on “Take A (Info) Dump

  1. Great suggestions, Dan! This is a topic I haven’t seen covered much in blogs, and it’s an important one for authors to know about.

    I tend to take the same approaches you do for working this all-important information into the story naturally, and dialog is also my favorite method, by far.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. CJ, it’s a problem so many new authors have, I’m surprised we don’t see it discussed more. (I probably should cite some examples of info dumps just so new authors who read this will know exactly what I mean.)

    Also, it’s a problem area solved by another problem area for most writers. Many authors struggle to write good, interesting, realistic sounding dialog, so telling them to fix an info dump by adding dialog makes the problem worse!

    By explaining ways to write better dialog, then explaining ways to remove info dumps, suddenly an interesting story appears!

    Usually, the new writer has a few issues, gets reamed for them, doesn’t know how to solve them, and gets frustrated – depriving the world of a great story.

    If I hadn’t been so obtuse, that might ave happened to me. I was lucky, I had no idea how bad my early stuff was; I thought everything was a masterpiece (still do), so I kept churning it out. Lo and behold, a few people took me under their wing and BOOYAH what a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not really an author (or a hippie, nor am I writing this from a nutshell). It’s the elements of writing, from mechanics to process and all things related, that interest me. Sometimes my eyes glaze over at all of the “tips for writers” that pass by my eyes in social media on a daily basis. I find yours most read-worthy, this one in particular.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For a long time I didn’t make the posts specifically “tips for writers” because that stuff bores me, too. But it occurred to me that readers like to occasionally learn how creative types do things, and writers tend to be an insecure bunch so aiming thing at improving their skill set drove a lot more traffic here – where they could actually benefit from something new writers need, and learn it a humorous way.

      I’m always intrigued when they do a “making of” for a movie I’ve seen. I like to see some of that behind the scenes stuff, and the playful banter that often accompanies it.

      When I do critiques for “new” writers, they’re usually grateful for basic stuff they didn’t know about – as was I not that long ago. It seemed to make sense to share some of that with others.

      And you are definitely a writer. Your posts are funny and well written. That counts!

      Like

  4. So funny.
    And, so true! It’s very easy to get caught in the cycle of info dumps.
    Unfortunately, while we’re writing them, they can just seem so . . . necessary. I once took a three month break from writing because I couldn’t figure out how to work around my dump. But like you said, if you just delete that chunk of information it’ll stand a great chance of shining where it’s needed.
    This definitely a valuable bauble. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s almost like a back story or prologue sometimes, and we may need it but readers may not. Knowing which is which – that’s a skill we rarely possess on our own stories, but having a trusted partner step up and say WHOA helps a lot.

    Also, you can wax poetic occasionally when a character needs to, and that can be a wordy way of getting emotions and insights in without appearing to do so. Your recent post about character descriptions was a perfect example of dropping stuff in here and there.
    https://scribblesoncocktailnapkins.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/building-character/

    Info dumps can be done the same way.

    Many people saw the movie Pulp Fiction. In it, Tarantino has a scene where the characters are about to rape Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames, and they refer to something like, “We could use Eddie’s old room.” (I’m not looking up the actual quote) Who is Eddie? What’s in his old room? Who ARE the freaking people??? WHAT’S IN THAT DAMNED BRIEFCASE????

    He never explained. We don’t need to know. Sometimes it’s more fun not knowing.

    Liked by 1 person

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