Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Writer's Spam: Avoiding and Eliminating Infodumps

A couple of weeks ago for Fiction Friday, I posted a Lucky Seven. I submitted the first ten pages of the manuscript from which said Lucky Seven came from as my crit piece for this past SHU residency. Being the nut that I am, I reread my work the night before its critique to try and get a feel of the critiques I would get. I guessed that one of the big comments would be that I had a few huge infodumps. I was right.

Before I go any farther, I will define infodumps (or writer’s spam as I sometimes call them) just in case anyone is unfamiliar with the term. Contrary to what their name implies, infodumps are not trash centers for info or when your manuscript goes to the bathroom. They are actually pretty much what their name implies—dumps of information. You know that person behind you in line at the grocery store? The one who, when you comment on how the line’s not moving, launches into the story of their life? That person is infodumping. Eliminate him…ignore him. He’s probably unaware that he’s infodumping.

Ok, back to my manuscript problem. I took the infodump feedback to heart, went back, and set myself the task of eradicating infodumps from existence (or at least from my manuscript). This proved easier for some than others. What do you do with information that you need to get across? After doing as much as I could, I opened my thesis and started to finalize the first three chapters for my July homework. Immediately, I noticed that infodumps were not a characteristic found only in my urban fantasy/paranormal mystery. They made appearances in my epic fantasy as well.

I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. Okay, no I didn’t, but I was not a happy camper. I reread the chapters and stared at the infodumps. I made faces at them and glared at them, but they didn’t leave. And then, something clicked in my head. I reread chapter two, and suddenly I knew what I was going to do.

So, that brings me to the meat of this post. Three ways to eliminate Infodumps/writer’s spam.

-Find another way to state the information
Reread your infodumps. Make friends with them. Understand them, and then snuff them from existence. Take them apart and scatter their parts across your manuscript. If you can, explain the content of the former infodump in dialogue. Readers love dialogue. It moves the story forward, and, if you implant previously infodumped information into dialogue, you supply the reader with forward motion and important information. A practical upshot of this is that you don’t want your dialogue to be too lengthy. So, you look for ways to condense information.

-Do you really need all this?
I’m going to say it. Don’t hit my blog. It’s on your computer screen, and if you hit it, you’ll break your computer. Go outside, throw sticks (don’t throw rocks, that’s dangerous). Beat up a pillow. Don’t interact with other humans until the frustration is out.

K, ready—YOU MAY NOT NEED EVERYTHING ON THE PAGE. I know. I’m sorry. Reread the infodumps and ask yourself “Is this necessary?” If the answer is always a resounding “YES, AND IT MUST STAY IN THIS FORMAT,” you’re doing it wrong. If the answer is “yes, but I can divide it up” or “maybe not,” good job—that’s the spirit. If the dividing up of infodumps method prescribed above doesn’t work, try and eliminate unnecessary information. I just recently did this, and I’m still here. You can do it too.

-Write the entire thing as dialogue
Try this as an exercise. If there’s an infodump that refuses to go away no matter what you do to it, fear not. Take the information, take two characters to which the information pertains, mix until combined (err, never mind, that’s cookies)…anyway, take the first two and open a blank document/notebook. Write out the information in the infodump as a conversation between the two characters as the characters would discuss it. See what you get. If the result is too difficult to chew—stick to writing, baking’s not for you. Otherwise, take the new product and compare it to the old one. Find what changed and apply that to the infodump. Maybe you can shorten it and spread some of it out at least.

They say “a well-disguised infodump is still an infodump.” I do beg to differ. There are cases where infodumps are the best way to get info across. No, I’m not contradicting myself. If you have a fantastic old house that a character is seeing for the first time, you want to describe it in one shot. Some particularly important bits of your world’s or characters’ history may be better given in one dose. The trick is to avoid unnecessary infodumps. If you have one or two with lots of non-infodump between them and those two are stellar infodumps, the infodump police won’t come after you.

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