Friday, January 7, 2011

The dreaded info-dump

The other day, I started typing my longhand first draft of a story-in-progress into Word and discovered, to my horror, that I had scribbled in my notebook two whole pages of info-dump. Two pages longhand comes out to about one typed, double-spaced page on the computer – about 250 words with no action and no characterization. Just an encyclopedia-like entry about the astronomical conditions affecting the planet on which this story takes place. When reading the slush, no editor is going to get past that. So, the question is: How to fix it?

First off, I ask myself whether the reader needs all this information right now to understand what is happening in the story. Inevitably, the answer is no. So I figure out what I do need to leave in at this exact spot and copy-and-paste the rest into a separate document. I’ll weave the other stuff into the story in bits and pieces at the points where the information seems to fit best.

The copy-paste trick whittled down the info-dump considerably but still leaves me with two paragraphs to get in here. The next step is to disguise the dump so it doesn’t read like one. There are a few ways I do this. I can weave the info into the narrative by interspersing it with action and characterization bits. I also try to write the info in an unexpected way so that it reads more like poetry and less like a textbook entry.

I also sometimes impart information by having two characters talk about it. Doing the info-dump in dialogue is walking a fine line because characters should never spout exposition at each other:

“As you know, Bob, we both work for a textile company.”
“Yes, and it is the fastest growing textile company in the world.”

I’ve come across dialogue almost this bad. Avoid it by having one character ignorant of the imparted information beforehand. He/she should learn the info at the same time the reader does, and the reader needs to be just as keen to have the information as the stand-in character is. Also, the dialogue needs to be done in a relaxed, colorful, true-to-the-characters kind of way.

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