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Pro tip: Remember to put lots of infodumping in your story!

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Kasper Hviid, Aug 11, 2020.

  1. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Minstrel

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    To clarify my opinion about this matter, I consider exposition and infodumping two completely different concepts altogether.

    As exposition, on one hand, I understand that is the narrative technique required in any fiction to give relevant explanations about concepts, situations, or any other element pertinent to the fiction itself. That is, these are the explanations or descriptions that give an insight to the narration's events and cast, help increase the reader's emotional engagement, and enhance the reading experience. Essentially, they help to improve the story somehow.

    An infodump, on the other hand, is any piece of information or description that neither really adds anything to the story nor improves the engagement of the reader. As I've said previously in this thread, infodumps forces the reader to study, so to speak, the text, to memorize those details because it's expected that they will be used in any way later in the fiction. But, alas, you reach the end and those paragraphs filled with worldbuilding details (or any other kind of concepts) turn out to be just filler with no consequence whatsoever in the story.

    No, for me it's not just about pushing the story forward, backwards or sidewise. It's about giving to the story something that truly helps it to be better, meaningful and truly engaging. Your example shows what I'm trying to say in this piece. Those descriptions are giving details that help understand the character and the situation she's in on each scene, it's not just information, it's about the mood of each moment, the feelings in the air, etc. That exposition helps the reader to understand the physical and psychological situation of the character, and to connect with her better.

    Another factor to take into consideration is about respecting the reader's time, specially in our days. Filling a narration with unnecessary details sure can test the patience of anyone. Because one thing is to hint to the existance of this or that race, brushes like that give a sense of that world's complexity, but something else is to put a full description of them when they don't appear at all in the story.

    Now, between exposition and infodumping there's an undeniable scale of greys...
     
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  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    If you're writing a big epic fantasy novel I think one or two infodumps is almost unavoidable. That information isn't there for show. It's helping to set up the story, even if readers don't totally understand how from the start.

    I mean, yes, infodumps are slow, can drag out, can make a reader impatient and bored. You have to get the readers invested before the infodump so that they'll be willing to put up with it. And you have the creative challenge of finding a way to make it more interesting than the garbled textbook it sounds like in your notes. And you want the infodump to work - you want readers to understand the story and not come out confused about who's who in your fallen Targaryen dynasty for two and a half books without having to explain it several times over.

    For me, the thing that's helped is to have the attitude that your infodump.... isn't. It's not an infodump. It's a reveal. It's a chance to make the readers go, "WOW!" I'm making promises to my readers, and I'm letting you in on some of my world's secrets. That's not boring. That's cool. This is where you find out that there are giants and boggarts, that a beautiful kingdom was destroyed, that people were just recently afraid of each other....

    To be totally blunt, if a writer can't make that stuff interesting, what are they doing as a writer? Get out of your head and step it up. You can tell a story, right? Your world is cool, right? Stop being timid and show it off.
     
  3. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Minstrel

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    I think we're in the same line of thought, although with different expressions (exposition vs reveal).
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'm seeing a real divide here. One group sees the term as inherently negative, where the other group sees the term as inherently neutral.

    When I see the term used by editors, it's always negative. Sometimes it's sufficient for them to make a comment "infodump!" and believe they have communicated their point. I hear the term used much the same way by readers in conversation--oh, that book had infodumps all over the place!

    I rarely hear anyone say "that was a very well written infodump."
     
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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  6. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Minstrel

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    Personally I prefer the heinleining technique, but the examples in the article are certainly good models for proper exposition.
     
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I remember that someone here by the name of Ghost coined the phrase "Info-littering." I think that describes it pretty well.
     
  8. Yes, but I do think the info-dump advice, as with a lot of writing advice, is sound because its often meant as a base rule intended for the new(ish) or beginning writer. And in that sense I think its always sound advice and should be included in every how to book or list.

    I'm willing to say the majority of people who wish to be writers tend to lean on true and uninteresting info dumps way more than is acceptable at the start. It's the default for new writers who have yet to learn and understand the nuances and subtlety within the ever-evolving craft of writing and it's fine, but it should be corrected.

    My first drafts always have longer periods of exposition than I'd like. But in each revision I've learned to whittle them down, seed that information in other ways, through characters voice and actions, and remove as much of the excess as I can manage without losing important information.

    As a reader, I'll rarely look at a paragraph or two in a story and call it an info-dump, unless its way out of context or a sharp break in the narrative flow, but if it's two-plus pages? I don't come across many long passages like that where my reader eye doesn't begin to wander, looking for the white space on the page again. And I read my share of Lit-Fic and period stories so I DO enjoy those generous details! :)
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    So I have an issue with "the advice" in general, and it's not that the advice is wrong, but.....

    When you look at a rough creative work, it's so much easier to reign in the excesses than to draw out something that isn't there. It's easier to take a paragraph of purple prose and make it into something beautiful than it is to do the same with a sparse, bare bones sentence. It's easier to tone down an excessive infodump and make it awe-inspiring than it is to add an infodump that isn't there.

    Yes, when looking just at the rough creative work, the sparse sentence reads better than the purple prose. The infodump elicits eye rolls and makes people shut the book. The sparse prose is just so readable by comparison.

    But that clunkiness is a stage, and a necessary one, in improving on your writing. You have to write some bad infodumps before you can start writing good ones. You have to do some purple writing before it becomes a flowerbed of beautiful colors, or whatever metaphor that word "purple" is supposed to refer to.

    It's better to say go crazy with your infodumps, to try new things, to write the infodump the way you friggin' want it, the way that delights you, and then scale it back later. That's how you grow.

    "Stay away from infodumps because they're all done poorly...." is crap advice that doesn't prepare you for that infodump you and I and everyone reading this knows that most fantasy writers cannot possibly avoid. It's coming, the story demands it, you will have to figure it out.

    You're introducing your world to your readers. It's nerve wracking, you want it to go well, you want people to like what you're doing, it's so uncomfortable we want to rush through it as fast as possible, but that doesn't mean we should quit the whole thing and skip the tour. That would just be rude.

    Is that infodump this icky thing you have to hide, or is it a chance to find the best way to show off how awesome your world is?
     
  10. That's not my take on them at all but I'm not sure one becomes much better at anything but writing slightly more passable, bad exposition without understanding all of the other methods they might employ to avoid those dense clusters, and why, whenever possible.

    Every author thinks they have a cool world to share with the world. Most actually aren't so interesting. Doesn't mean that I won't enjoy a story every bit as much if I only get little glimpses. Better that than bore me to death with mundane excess. The world building and cool factor, for me, is always the frosting, the story is the foundation/cake.

    Don't get me wrong, show me three pages of your translucent city on the hill, but do it through the eyes of the character as they search for a mad monk whose prophesies come true, encountering a few cool bits and bobs along their way. I'll go along for that ride without blinking. Dump it on me as a jarred memory when the city is mentioned by another character and it interrupts or bogs down the present scene? I'm not likely to stay.

    So, I think they go hand in hand. Practice, yes, along with an expansion of our understanding of the finer points of the craft and utility.

    Someone above mentioned Shannara. Never read it as a kid. As an adult, I couldn't get through the book because of all the lengthy, world-explaining exposition (and some of the worst examples of -ly adverb abuse on record) This may only be taste too, perhaps?

    I don't need an author to recap of a centuries long succession of vile kings if they're not relevant to the story. Simply saying "her kingdom, smothered under a thousand years of a corrupt monarchy," works every bit as well for mean that list, which can just stay tucked in the author's world building folder and never see the light of day except on a website or as an extra in an appendix. Put a dozen appendixes in there with lexicons, currency exchanges etc, I'm all for it! :)


    Finding the best way is the key for me. That usually means finding another way around using long exposition, whenever possible, to reveal it. :) I do wonder if an editor has, in the last twenty years, ever given an author the note, "What this story needs is more narrative exposition in long, well written chunks?" lol
     
  11. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I'm sorry if I implied that it was. The line was a rhetorical shorthand composite for all "the advice" that pushes for limits and restraint. It wasn't meant to be targeted at anyone directly. I recognize that most actual people have more nuanced opinions than that.


    ...but that's actually the point I'm trying to make. They don't say that because it doesn't work. By the time you're with an editor they are looking to work with the skills you've already developed and shown to them. If you are good enough to write well written exposition you would've brought that to the manuscript already.

    Everyone wants an editor. But most of the time people need a coach first. You have to push yourself and your abilities early and often. Restraint is a latter step.
     
  12. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

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    I think you're right. I gave this some serious pondering yesterday or so. What most newbie fantasy writers would go for is epicness. And it's easy to envision some kinda epic saga. But actually capturing that epicness on paper is pretty damn hard. So, I think, it easily ends up being just a long list of factuals which fails to draw the reader into the world. (personally, I stay far away from epicness. Not only because it's hard, but also because I prefer more humble, less "important" stories)

    After reading Writing Wonder, I had begun using wonder as a key concept. Wonder, the feeling of exploring something fresh and new, something completely alien, is what I see as the foundation of fantasy. And I think world building is what primarily strengthens this, not story. Like, the fandom surrounding Star Wars, Cthulhu and Lord of the Rings is mostly about the "feel" of the world, not as much the actual story.

    Also, take a look at this headline: The Avatar effect: Movie goers feel depressed and even suicidal at not being able to visit utopian alien planet

    What caused this reaction? Hardly Cameron's deep plotlines.

    If you write a raw whodunnit, of course, then anything which isn't a lead or a false lead is just an annoyance. Here, the plot is the only thing that matters. But with fantasy, I think, the drive to explore the world deeper is so central that info dumping can become quite pleasurable for the reader (if done right)
     
  13. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    The problem as I see it is this: Tastes vary. Evaluations vary. Expectations vary. And what one person finds interesting might bore me to tears. I'm not a very Care Bears kind of guy, so a lengthy excerpt detailing all the different Care Bears in some fan fiction would drive me into an early grave, but a reader exists who would find the descriptions fascinating.
     
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  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    If you think your world is cool, then your world is cool. That's enough. It's your enthusiasm that sells it. That same enthusiasm is what drives you to improve your writing and your worldbuilding. Don't hamper that. Push it. If you find something cool, figure out how to share that. Help me to find it cool too.


    CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

    **two minutes into a Care Bears fanfiction deepdive**

    CHALLENGE FAILED
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2020
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  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I think I agree, but not entirely. My life is a history lesson in beating heads against a wall. My own head at least. Whether my boredom or the apparent boredom in the eyes of others, there are limits to expressive power and influence.
     
  16. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Right. I have to recognize a bit of a double standard on my part here. I said before that I'm taking the perspective of a coach instead of an editor, and I've talked (in a lot of threads actually) about pushing yourself to develop better writing skills.

    There's phases that we go through. In one phase it's important to push and experiment. That's the phase for delusional enthusiasm, so to speak. In another phase you have to accept reality and make the cuts because everything isn't perfect and we have limits and some things are just too hard and there's always the next book. And there's even stage where you might have to put aside both growth and limits to focus on the grunt work of getting words to a page.

    But even that word, "phase," is misleading. If I'm writing a scene it might be mostly gruntwork, with only one area that really calls for more, and even as I'm typing I'm trimming in places. It's important to move between all three different attitudes fluidly and at the right times to make things great.
     
  17. Hmmm. . .

    With the sound of harmonious bear song closing in, Grumpy Bear, the storm cloud on his chest darkening by the moment, knew there was no time to dispose of the seam ripper.

    Nor the quart of polyfill stuffing that lay scattered around the Forest of Feelings.

    "Feelings," he mumbled, "stuff that."

    <>oOo<>


    Agreed.

    And I meant that cool world/not cool line in the context of a creator/writer who decides the first world they create, as is out of the box, is cool and that it's good enough even when it's barely more than a first draft of the first world they've ever set out to build. I believe, with very few exceptions, It takes repetition and practice to become skilled at anything, so it follows it would also take the same practice and repetition to craft a truly sound world.

    At least that was my own experience. I'd never dream of thinking that first worlds I set out to build were high quality or had the depth to work in any story or RPG. Elements of them, sure. One might get lucky and craft something genius out of the box but I'm, as someone who reads a lot of first time writing/worldbuilding, much of it not good and not because it's not my taste, but because it's obvious in the same way it's obvious when someone hasn't taken the time to learn basic structure and writing skill and you can see, on the page, that there is a lot of work to be done on it. Or sometimes they've heavily borrowed from somewhere else directly. But in those cases, believe me, I'm always more coach than editor.

    Like you said above, yes, HELP me to find your world cool. But, I like to add, Don't hit me over the head with it! That's almost never cool.

    Devor, somewhere in this discussion there are the seeds for an exposition writing contest waiting. :)
     
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  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Ah, I'm still not getting the great example of infodump.

    Yours is a very cool start to a potentially cool story.

    But for it to be infodump, you'd probably need to go into length with, dunno, lots of info. And then maybe conclude the passage with

    But we are not here to talk about Care Bears. They live two woods over, across the Bifurcating River, in an area our hero knows nothing about. He has in fact never even heard of the Care Bears; and, he is not likely to meet them, because the Bifurcating River is too broad, too violently rushing for him to ever cross, and besides which he's a Weeping Willow with roots sunk deep over twenty-five years now, locking him in place.

    Speaking of which, this is why his actions, on a certain day when the sun was shining hot and bright and all the butterflies were fluttering around him, were so heroic. His roots, I mean.
     
  19. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Sage

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    Saw a video about this very topic today, using Death Note as an example.
    Death Note has a TON of info dumping all over, but keeps you excited the whole time. How? Why?
    Long story short: Make the audience genuinely curious to know something, and then tell them that thing.

    That's why you don't write pages about the creation of the earth and God Pantheons on page 1. No one cares yet. But after reading Lord of the Rings many people enjoy reading the The Silmarillion.
     
  20. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I haven’t read Death Note to know that, but the answer given is entirely subjective. It’s always better to give info without dumping. I doubt Death Note would do it for me, so it would be info dumping, if in fact they are doing so by my definition.

    And if that’s a graphic novel, it’s apples to oranges... and apple or orange, I wouldn’t get past page one of Death Note, heh heh.

     
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