Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Avoiding the dreaded info dump

Exposition – there’s no getting around the need to explain what’s going on at times in a story. Are you “gather them in the drawing room and have the sleuth lay it all out” type or how do you handle this?

By Vicki Delany

A very pertinent question for me this week.  

I’ve given a lot of workshops over the past few years, I really enjoy teaching and meeting new prospective writers.  I decided to branch out a bit this winter and offer a complete course in Writing Popular Fiction through my local library.  The course has begun and I have a group of eager students with a lot of promise.

One of the things I find that you always have to remind beginning writers is to avoid the dreaded info dump.  As Meredith stated so well yesterday, anything that belongs with “As you know, John…” has got to go.

But, yes sometimes you have to tell us what the heck is going on.  Often, the worst possible way to do that is through dialogue. Instead of “As you know, John, our father died last year.” I’d prefer to say it right out. John and Jane’s father died last year. What’s wrong with that?

How about Jane still hadn’t recovered from the death of her father?

Same thing with the sleuth in the drawing room hypnosis. I’d much rather see the sleuth’s thought process throughout the book as it leads her to her conclusion, than sit through her explaining to everyone how her thought process works.  “Once I realized that Sir Nigel Rancid-Goatsmell smoked Turkish cigarettes then I realized that…”  would work so much better as, Something about the scent of Sir Nigel’s cigarette reminded her…

Similarly I find that you can waaaaay over do telling us that the character is thinking as in Sir Nigel’s cigarette, she thought, smelled bad. If she is the POV character then every thought or feeling must belong to her. Just say Sir Nigel’s cigarette smelled bad.

When it comes to exposition in a long running series, I find that you can run into a problem of how much is too much too often. You want the reader who’s picked up this latest one without reading any of the previous ones to know something about what happened in earlier books, but you don’t want to bore the long-time reader by saying it all again.  For example, before the Constable Molly Smith series begins her fiancé is killed, knifed in a back alley. She becomes a police officer largely to work though her grief.  I am now writing book seven in the series.  Graham’s death is still a part of her life, particularly as how it affects her new relationship.   

Do I need to tell everyone one more time, about Graham?

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