Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Writing Tips- How to NOT infodump!

Infodumping...one of those problems that plague writers every where. Its one of those relentless evils that seem impossible to beat, but with the right mindset and some thinking, you can easily learn how to overcome them everywhere. (All examples used in this post are excerpts from my novel, Night Lies. The first three chapters can now be read on Wattpad).

So what exactly is an infodump?
An infodump is be definition, when a writer feels that they must tell their reader curcial information and end up dumping information in their stories in big chunks. So basically...an infodump.

What an infodump look like:
 This is a part from chapter three  in which I explain about Faith's condition. I should change it, but I've yet to find a way to shorten it or put it throughout the story. Eventually I'll fix it...
Faith was different from everyone she knew. She was a Lusus Naturae or a mutant as the media called them. Only, no one knew about that. Faith had used her powers when she was younger, but she hadn't used them in front of people because when she did, people got scared. But when she was older, she found out what happened to people like her- other Lusus Naturae- they disappeared. No one knew what happened to them.
As she grew older, she used her powers less and less, hoping she'd grow out of them. That she knew was the test. Every child when they were born under went a test for the Lusus Naturae DNA. If they were found with the DNA the child was watched by doctors and other people until they were twelve. If they never showed any signs of powers or they had out grown out of their powers by then, they were let into the Academy. If not, they simply disappeared. 
Why are infodumps bad?
They're not if you think about it, but most people just don't read them. And if its something important, you want your readers reading that. Not skipping over it. Besides, do you really want to read a whole page length explaining something that could be explained in a couple sentences? Or not even explained at all?

Sometimes, there are reasons and places where infodumps are needed or just where you can't get rid of them. And that's okay. As long as you don't do it all the time.

Think about this: you're writing from your character's perspective and every time you pause to explain something, you risk losing your reader's attention. Not only that, but infodumps pause the story and are unnatural in some ways. Using them means risking jarring your reader out of the story. They make readers aware of the author and that's something you shouldn't want to do. You want your story to remain natural and make your readers feel as if it is real.

It also means that it slows down the story. Do you really want that awkward pause right in the middle of the story's flow? Let the story flow its natural course without awkward breakups.

Sareh's foolproof plan to kill off infodumps and save your story. 
  1. Decide if the information you want to covey is really all that important. Remember, your reader doesn't need to know everything. 
  2. Can you put this somewhere else? Readers don't need or want to know everything at once. If you find yourself infodumping, try to figure out if this information is curcial to the scene. If not, try breaking it up and sprinke it throughout the rest of the story. 
    1. Look at the next example. That part was not only big and chunky in chapter 2, but I ended up explaining Lieu's past over a couple other chapters instead of all in the first one with her in it. 
  3. Shorten it. If infodumps have taken over your story, is there a way you can convey this information in less space? Can you make it into a sentence or even a couple sentences instead of a giant paragraph or a couple of them?
    1. Ex. After their parents' death, Cassy and Lieu had sold their old apartment and moved in with their aunt and cousins. But after it was discovered that their aunt stole their parents' life-insurance, Cassandra moved out, saved up enough Credits, and bought the current apartment. (This example was originally put into the second chapter, then moved to the fourth. But it was also much longer and I ended up shortening it to a couple sentences.)
  4. If there's no way to fix your infodump, leave it. But this is the last resort. 
  5. Have your characters tell the information. Instead of having one character remember something, could two or more characters talk about it? 
    1. Ex. (In this conversation between Lieu and Eden, we're explained to how Lieu got her nickname.)“Hey Songbird,” Eden said carelessly.
    Lieu’s head snapped up from the lunch menu to glare at her. “Don’t call me that,” she snapped over the Network. “You know that only Xander calls me that.” Eden rolled her eyes. “Yeah ever since that day he caught you singing Gospel songs in the girls’ lockeroom shower. You weren’t even suppose to be in there.” “Well I didn’t know that he was in there! I thought that all of the guys on the swim team had gone out already! And its not my fault that the guys’ lockeroom had flooded thanks to Henri Robyn’s prank. Besides, I was out of water at home and I needed a shower!” Lieu glared at her friend some more, thinking how Eden needed a healthy dose of glaring.
    You could have just come over to my apartment,” Eden reminded her.
    You were on a date with Mica, and I know you hate being interrupted in case something romantic is happening,” Lieu countered. Disconnecting her Network, Lieu quickly ordered her lunch- yogurt.   
Part 2- What not to do. 
  1. If people are always commenting on infodumps, try to fix them if possible. Don't add on to them or move them to a different spot and think your readers won't notice. We're not that stupid. 
  2.  Don't explain something to a character they already know. If you're using conversation or something to fix an infodump, don't have another character telling a character something they already know. That's silly. To fix this problem, try talking about something as if its something that everyone knows already. Don't pause to explain but instead, show us whatever it is you're explaining. Don't tell me what the Network is, show me!
    1. Ex. In Night Lies, all my characters know what Widgets are, but do you? Probably not. But by reading the story and seeing how the characters interact with Widgets, one might come to the conclusion that they're somekind of screen thing. In fact, they're like tablet computers. But more high tech. 
    2. Same thing with the Network. That's like the internet or the cloud. But you can access it from anywhere. Think of...the internet in your head and that's what you get basically. If that makes sense...
So, do you have any problems with infodumps? What are ways you use to get rid of them?


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