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Info-dumps with style

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by MFreako, Jun 25, 2013.

  1. MFreako

    MFreako Troubadour

    I've just finished reading Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora. In the book, there's an interlude after every chapter. Some of these interludes have nothing at all to do with the main story, as info-dumpish as it gets. One instance comes to mind where Lynch dedicates an entire interlude to a story about a fictitious ball game.

    Funny thing is, I actually enjoyed these tidbits of information. I was invested enough in the story, that I was curious to find out more about the world. Plus Lynch's writing is engaging enough (in my opinion) that I hadn't once
    found myself bored, even when nothing happened story-wise.

    Which leads me to the question: Can info-dumps be done with style? I mean sure, we can have characters reveal information through dialogue, thoughts, actions. But maybe sometimes giving the reader some cold, hard facts isn't that bad, if executed correctly, of course.

    What do you think?
  2. Spider

    Spider Sage

    It's apparently worked in Lynch's book with you (and probably other readers then), so I don't see why not. As for me, I don't think I would continue the book if the information strayed too far from the plot.

    Info-dumps are hard to get right though... I would rather have the information spread out throughout the book and revealed through dialogue, thoughts, and actions. On the other hand, if an author can pull off an info-dump with "style" and still keep me hooked, I have no problem with that.
    MFreako likes this.
  3. Truepinkas

    Truepinkas Dreamer

    I'd consider doing it in a one shot work, but if it were something where I was even vaugly thinking of returning to that world I'd not do it. No sense getting continuity locked for something that isn't nessessary for the story.

    Just my thoughts though.
    MFreako likes this.
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Of course they can be done with style. There are authors who have done so quite successfully. It is hard to pull off though. You have to have a very strong narrative voice to make it work, and these days most of the writing advice you see on forums is directed toward eliminating the unique narrative voice and making everyone's writing generic and interchangeable. If you're following that route, infodumps are a bad idea because there is nothing there to sustain the reader, whereas with a strong, engaging narrative voice you can allow yourself these sorts of tangents without losing the reader.
    Jabrosky, Nameback, Ghost and 3 others like this.
  5. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

    It is reassuring, in a disturbing way, to know that I'm not the only person who has noticed this.
    Ireth likes this.
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Yes, it is unfortunate but true. :)
  7. Mara Edgerton

    Mara Edgerton Troubadour

    The stylish info-dump notes in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell were a large part of what made the book so much fun. I do appreciate, however, that they were set off in notes, and not added directly in the story. Sounds similar to the interludes you mention, MFreako.
    MFreako likes this.
  8. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    Quite frankly, I have never had a problem with info dumps.

    You don't see a lot of it in books published by commercial publishers - but when you do, it's usually handled reasonably tastefully.

    Info dumps are useful for moving the story forward, especially after a time lapse that may have occurred (say) between Parts. The trick is to hide it as well as you can. I had a major info dump at the beginning of Part 3 of my most successful book but it was interspersed with live action. I don't think anyone noticed...certainly no-one complained.
    MFreako likes this.
  9. Nameback

    Nameback Troubadour

    I think part of the reason it might work in what's described in the OP is that it's brazen.

    No one likes a graceless info-dump that pretends to be dialogue or plot. But there's something to be said for just being explicit and forthright: "Yes, I'm going to do a bunch of exposition right now, and I'm not going to hide it."

    I mean, people read history books and news articles for fun, after all. Clearly there is entertainment value to be found in expository writing. Narrative writing is not the only entertaining or compelling kind of writing. And just because you're writing primarily in a narrative mode, who says you can't switch styles to expository if you want to? Or persuasive, or analytical, or critical, or poetic.

    Obviously, without any narrative writing, it's not a novel--but there's no hard and fast rule that says a work of fiction must hew to one mode of writing and one mode only.

    Edit: I'm with Steerpike. Be bold, have a strong voice. There are guidelines for technique, but rules are made to be understood and then broken. If you want an idea of how bold a book can be and still be rewarding and fun:

    Last edited: Jun 26, 2013
    Jabrosky, MFreako and Ddruid like this.
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    It's been a while since I read The Lies of Locke Lamora (and admittedly I didn't like it much) but I'm pretty sure the chapters that the OP is talking about are NOT info dumps. They are dramatized scenes, as I recall, not expository. Info dumps also usually convey information that is relevant to the main plot while these scenes are mostly about character development. They aren't really about information but showing the characters in various stages of their past in order to help the reader understand the kind of people they eventually became. Personally, I thought they were MORE interesting than the main plot. But I really don't think they are info dumps.
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    The phrase "info-dump" is pejorative from the get-go. It's meant to be that way. By definition, there's no such thing as a good info-dump. There is good exposition and there is bad exposition, and for some reason people have come to prefer "info-dump" to "poor exposition".

    In the end, there's good writing and bad writing. Bad writing is hard to read and annoying. While some people prefer one kind of writing to another, there really is such a thing as bad writing--it's the kind that is hard for anyone to read.

    The gray area comes when the writing is highly idiosyncratic: it might enthrall some readers but annoy others. It might be brilliant but currently unmarketable. It might be rejected by this agent but snapped up by that one. Or rejected by all for a decade then finally be accepted. There are even books that I once thought were good but which on a re-read were dismal.

    As others have said, don't worry about what's a good idea to do or a bad idea to write. First, have ideas. Then, write them. Write them to the uttermost best of your ability, then get them critiqued, and write them even better. Then send the darling on its way. In this, writing is a lot like parenting.
    MFreako and Weaver like this.

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