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How to differentiate between info dump and not?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Archunt3r, Jul 19, 2020.

  1. Archunt3r

    Archunt3r Dreamer

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    How do you or does one tell what they've written sounds like there is to info or too much story that there is an info dump? I've had it come up in another forum I'm in with some of the work that I've posted a snippet of but too me I don't see an info dump.

    But I guess the thought is how do we differentiate or know when there is one and the best way to remove it without completely ruining what you've got?
     
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    You might try this: erase that phrase from the discussion. There's no such thing as an info-dump.

    OK, now, evaluate the passage. If someone says it's an info-dump, ask them to explain what isn't working. "Too much information" or some such isn't an acceptable answer. Force them to be specific. There's *something* about the section they don't like.

    I suggest this because we get hung up on the label and end up not really looking at the words themselves. If it's an explanatory passage, often the reader is saying they don't care about the information. It doesn't feel relevant or important, most particularly with regard to the chapter or section that came just previously. It may be that there wasn't much engagement to begin with, and this passage was the final straw. But it might also be that this passage was presented out of context--a sample of writing--and the reader is hitting it cold, like being shown a close-up in a movie without the rest of the movie.

    Those are just a couple examples. There are many, many reasons why a passage might not work. Concentrate on that. Don't get distracted by a label.
     
  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Here are some signs that it could be.

    Does the story drop dead in its tracks, with a large amount of info being put forth?

    Is it one huge block of text with one person monologuing?

    Is the conversation just two characters explaining things to each other that each character already knows, especially with ‘as-you-know Bob’ type dialogue?

    The information being dropped feels like an non sequitur.

    Also think about the phrase ‘info dump’. What’s the difference between someone giving, delivering, or presenting something to you versus them simply dumping it onto you? One seems more pleasant. Like a parcel delivery. The other is like someone flopping something into your lap. There deal with that crap. I don’t want it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2020
  4. S J Lee

    S J Lee Sage

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    An info dump is just a name we give to "giving information in a way that annoys the reader"
    Even a good delivery becomes annoying if it is done too many times too soon.
    Vary your methods, spread the info out.
    Don't describe everybody at once, especially if they are the POV

    Use heralds delivering messages. Getting dying men to say who killed them. Letters with the paper half-covered in blood.

    What is the difference between a powerful superhero and a Mary Sue? A Mary Sue is a powerful character... given lots of powers very quickly... THAT WE FIND ANNOYING. Is Spiderman a Mary Sue (bitten by a spider. That is it.) ? The Hulk (gamma radiation exposure. That is it) ? Is Superman (Born on Krypton. That is it.) ? Is Wonder Woman (Daughter of Zeus. That is it.) ? Is Red Sonja (older versions) (blessed by a goddess. That is it) ? Is Achilles (Son of Zeus, dipped in magic river...)?
     
  5. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Minstrel

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    It's a pretty self-explanatory term, if you're dumping information then it's info-dumping. Ideally information should be given organically, like mentioning it in passing while a scene is happening. It's basically the same as Show, Don't Tell.

    Don't say Bob is really tall, have Bob lean down to pass a doorframe.
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    With respect, I don't believe it's a self-explanatory term at all. If it were, we wouldn't have people asking having it explained, over and over, by the thousands, years on end. The difficulty comes in differing tastes. What is info-dump for one reader is enchanting prose or fascinating background for another. Indeed, my own tastes on this have changed over the course of my life. The book hasn't changed; I have.

    With that in mind, it becomes incredibly difficult to advise a specific author on this matter. It really has to come down to: post your work and get feedback; then, with all of it in mind, make your own choice, knowing that some reader out there is going to love it and some reader is going to hate it. And another will barely remember it.
     
  7. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Minstrel

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    I think it is, but that the real issue is whether info dumping is always bad, which it isn't, because very few things are absolute.
     
  8. MrNybble

    MrNybble Sage

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    Info dumping can be really bad. Difference between reading a story versus an encyclopedia.
     
  9. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    The Sword of Shannara proves that infodumps exist ;) The biggest issue with dumps tends to be a lack of “organic flow”, which Sword attempts, but it is a painfully obvious attempt to be organic that pretty much makes my head want to hit the pillow... or coffee table, whatever might be close. Keep exposition pithy and organic, and things tend to work out.

     
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Shannara proves that bad writing exists. IMO, calling it an infodump doesn't really help the beginning writer who worries over this. That's why I suggested putting the term to one side and concentrating on what's actually there, looking for ways to improve rather than ways to label.

    My favorite infodump comes from an unlikely source: Ian Fleming. He does it throughout--ridiculously detailed descriptions of guns, attire, whatever. One of the most egregious comes early in Casino Royale where he spends paragraph after paragraph explaining to us the rules of baccarat, only to move past it and never refer to it again. Yet Fleming is often presented as an author of action and adventure.
     
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Someone could shower me with a dump trunk's worth of $100 bills, and I wouldn't mind.
     
  12. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    Just about any story is going to need a little bit of info dump. Even the mighty Orwell resorted to it despite 1984 having one of the best ever (non-info dump) opening sentences of all time.

    "It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."

    The extract from Goldstein's book is pure info dump and goes for many pages.

    My new book, out in August, has a couple of passages which irritate me slightly as being a tad info dumpish, but they happen early and feature info I want the reader to have very early. The info is complex and I just couldn't think of a better way of conveying that much info quickly without info dump. Mind you, I'm talking two paras in a 460 page book.
     
  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Like any other technique in writing, an infodump can be handled well or poorly. As a general rule, the shorter they are, the less likely they are to annoy me. Also, if the narrative has a strong, engaging voice you can get away with infodumping for a lot longer. A good first person narrator, for example, makes it a lot easier to sustain an infodump. I try to avoid them in third person writing but that’s not always possible.
     
  14. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I think their may be confusion on what is meant by an info dump. To me, there’s info dumping, which is negative, and then, there’s exposition, which is necessary.

    It’s like it’s necessary for one to poop once in a while, but it is not necessary for one to go poop in the bed. In my eyes that’s what an info dump is. It’s poorly handled exposition.
     
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  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Agreed. Info dump is merely a more recent word for poorly-done exposition. So, to go back to the OP, the question is, how do I write exposition well? Which is a sub-set of how do I write well?

    Which is a question best left as an exercise for the student. <g>

    I really do think the term "info-dump" is somewhere between not useful and actively harmful. It tends to confuse and dismay beginning writers, and leads mainly to circular arguments among experienced writers.
     
  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don’t think infodump is always used that way. I’ve seen it used a lot as not inherently negative. That’s how I used it.

    This is an old link, but John Scalzi talks about it here: Whatever: As You Know, Bob

    I think infodumps can be done well but usually are not.
     
  17. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    So (speaking of circular arguments), what would you say is the difference between info-dump and exposition?
     
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think an infodump is a type of exposition. At what point the information density reaches “infodump” levels, I don’t know. IMO, the only way to evaluate it is on a case-by-case basis with reference to the specific text in question.
     
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  19. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    It's jargon, and like any other discipline, there's the surface level meaning to it, and then, there's the deeper, long winded meaning. And like a lot of jargon, it can get tossed around without really knowing what it means. I find "show not tell" gets tossed around like that. It's great if you understand the deeper meaning, but if you only understand the surface level to it, then it can be harmful and/or useless.

    I think inconsistent use of jargon is one of the great sources of confusion and why arguments can start in the writing community. Unfortunately, there isn't a nice easy solution. It's not like there's a governing body that can define exactly what something means. Everyone has their own process and names for things within that process. If you read different writing books on theory and structure there can be so much confusion if you get bogged down on the label for something instead of the concept it represents.

    For example, a writer for the Rick and Morty show developed this thing he calls the story circle. He derived it from the famous Hero's Journey story structure, modifying it to suit his way of thinking, with his own labels. When I look a it and ignore the labels, it's easy to see that it's just a form of the 3 act structure.

    Or, when everyone talks about writing a 'scene', there's the broad meaning of that word, which gets used a lot. But when you set it in the context of story structure and talk about scene and sequel, the word 'scene' takes on a specific meaning with specific characteristics. Personally, I like to call them action scenes and reaction scenes. I think it's a little more clear, especially when hearing recommendations about staring your story in the midst of the action.

    Not exactly 100% sure where I'm going with this, but I think if we set up context and talk more about concepts rather than worry about what to label things we'll achieve... I don't know... world peace and a cure to Covid? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
     
  20. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Audience threshold, heh.

    Even if the term infodump is squishy, it is real for the reader using it to describe what he is reading!

    Of course, tastes being what they are....yes, that makes it squishy on the margins, but this doesn't mean the term is entirely useless.

    I suppose the variation in author capability makes a difference also. What if my authentic voice (another squishy term) includes lots and lots of exposition? :sneaky: In that case however, I'd feel obligated to make the exposition worth $100 rather than $ 0.01 or less. Again, this is dependent on the reader expectation, taste, sensibility...Ultimately, I'd also need to be very comfortable, in my own skin, doing what I choose to do, even if this includes the possibility of losing some readers. Unless that loss of readership alone would make me uncomfortable in my own skin...
     
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