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What do you do when the character demands an infodump?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Anders Ämting, Jan 4, 2013.

  1. So in my new story, the main character thinks she's a normal teenager, but then gets thrown into a hidden world of magic. Turns out she has magic powers, her sister is an ex-sorceress, etc.

    Now, it seems to me that the natural thing for my MC to do is to demand the sister tell her exactly everything about what's going on. Because, of course, that's what I would have done. But I don't want the sister to just sit down and spend like a whole page explaining everything about the magical society in one sitting, because then it looks like I'm just dumping exposition. So I try to think of a way to break it up - the sister doesn't want to confuse the MC with too much information right away, and there are parts she doesn't understand either and need to research. But now that feels kinda like a lame excuse for me to make everything arbitrarily mysterious.

    How would you guys deal with this?
     
  2. GregorsMentor

    GregorsMentor Dreamer

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    I'm going through a similar thing myself, with a lot of back story to be explained and no natural way to spread it out. To some extent I've been trying to intersperse it with a lot of details on the action of the characters, having them walk and talk, so that I can describe both their path, the weather, things they see, as info is being dumped upon them.

    Still it might be good for the older sister to give just the broad strokes and let the younger sister to find out the details as needed, either on her own or from other characters.
     
  3. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    I had a similar problem with my character. What I did was put my self in both character's shoes. The confused hero and the knowing side character. I also took note of the setting, were they in the best place to discuss things? So with all of that in mind I had the character tell my hero what he could under circumstances, answering what ever questions he could.

    A note about this type of character scenario. This character is new to the magic world, so is the reader. Readers want to learn about the magic world with the hero. Look ahead at what your character is going to do, who they meet and everything, and see what they could learn on the way that the sister doesn't have to explain.
     
  4. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I would plot a reason for the sister not to be able to share all of her knowledge initially, forcing the MC to make discoveries of her own. There are many ways you could handle this...sis in a coma, sis has memory magically wiped, sis is abducted, sis is trying to protect MC from entering a world she herself fled, perhaps some knowledge is dangerous for her to know right away, etc.

    Eventually a mentor is going to be explaining, teaching, things of this nature. Like all proper instruction, it should be doled out in stages, as someone becomes ready to handle the next step. It doesn't have to read & feel like an infodump if you can gradually impart knowledge in this way. Giving your MC a willing resource, that knows too much early on, seems to be a likely source of your trouble.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2013
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Be very careful.

    The Maze Runner had a similar situation. The author handled it by putting off the character's questions by having everyone say, "I'll answer it tomorrow." It got really annoying. Not that the book was very good anyway, but it started things on the wrong foot.
     
  6. They are basically in the ideal situation to explain stuff, though - at home while recovering from a battle. The best way to stall this it I could think of is that the MC almost passes out from magic overuse and the next morning, the sister has fallen asleep reading a magic book and the MC doesn't have the heart to wake her.

    That's what I want to do, but I can't imagine any normal person would just shrug their shoulders and go: "I'll find out about this eventually." And I don't want to frustrate my readers by making it obvious I'm stalling.

    Thing is, the older sister kinda is the MC's mentor, and there's no real reason she wouldn't tell her everything, other than the fact that it would get overwhelming. All of it is pretty much public knowledge anyway - the MC could also ask her love interest the same questions and get basically the same answers, minus the parts concerning the MCs family. In fact, she's going to do that in the next scene anyway.
     
  7. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    As I'm reading this again, I can't help but think of the famous mentoring in Star Wars...bear with me a moment.

    When Luke first encounters Obi-wan he is shown his father's lightsaber. He's allowed nothing more than to activate it & hold it. Obi-wan doesn't just start rattling off about the intricacies about the force. He may gloss over it a bit along with limited knowledge of Luke's heritage but he doesn't just start spilling all he knows. Why?

    It's because he knows Luke isn't ready for it. He knows that rushing things can lead down dark roads, dangerous roads. He's made similar mistakes before. Why not work with something along these lines?

    Also, are we talking about a magic system that yields power instantly because it's innate or are we discussing skills that have to be mastered, abilities that must be harnessed? Perhaps a better understanding of the magic system and a synopsis of what needs to be explained/taught to her will help us aid you?
     
  8. ScipioSmith

    ScipioSmith Sage

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    I personally don't think that there's anything wrong with a mild infodump as long as it is well written.

    In Eye of the World, Robert Jordan has Moiraine dump the entire history of Manetheren on the readers in one go, and its not anything the characters or readers particularly need to know (although it does explain some things down the line like Mat knowing the Old Tongue, or why the Two Rivers Three plus Two are all such awesome badasses). But that doesn't matter, because it's a damn good story told damn well.

    Write the infodump, look at it and then decide if you want to avoid it like the plague or not.
     
  9. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    ...hmmm, what if, in the morning after the sleeping, her sister is awake and packing stuff up. There's some sort of emergency or something's come up so they have to go so there's no time to explain. That way the reader, and character, still craves information but both still want to know what's going on which propels the story forward?
     
  10. saellys

    saellys Inkling

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    Tie it into the reason the sister is now an ex-sorceress, and make that something she doesn't want to divulge, so extracting any information from at all becomes like pulling teeth. Maybe she did something that would shake the MC's faith in her, and/or it was a mistake the MC could easily make herself after dabbling in magic enough. If the details of what the heck is going on are connected to a painful past, that's a pretty good reason for the sister to keep it secret.
     
  11. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Who else was at this battle - or at least knew of it - and is still around. Have this other person(s) drop in about the time things start getting tedious, saying something to the effect of 'you shouldn't be telling her this' - and have this other person make a bit of a scene about it, maybe using the sisters injuries as an excuse. "You're half out of your mind here! You try telling her about this stuff now, you'll get half of it wrong!"
     
  12. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    This is normally a horrible idea, but I might as well suggest it for completeness's sake--maybe you could mention in your narration that the MC's sister told her everything, without actually telling everything to the reader, and then have the MC dole this info out to the reader where appropriate. (If you're using a very chatty and informal style, the MC could even tell the reader point-blank that it was a lot of info and most of it wasn't immediately relevant.)
     
  13. Well, first of all, Luke has no reason to be asking a lot of in depth questions about it. It didn't seem to radically change his worldview or anything - he'd probably at least heard of the Force before. (Considering that "May the Force be with you" is still a common blessing in his time.) He actually seemed to be far more surprised to learn that his father had fought in the clone wars.

    As far as Luke is concerned, the old man he just met is discussing a pre-Empire religion and Obi probably didn't want to come on too strong since Luke hadn't even agreed to leave the planet yet, much less become a Jedi.

    A better comparisson would be Harry Potter finding out that there's a whole hidden society of wizards.

    Well, as far as the MC goes, it's pretty much instant.

    See, certain women in this setting can manifest a supernatural castle that makes them magically connected to a large area. Men, on the other hand, can form a contract with these women and gain power in the form of a magic armor. "Magicians" are, strictly speaking, anyone who has studied how to manipulate magic, but you don't actually need to be a magician to manifest a castle or armor, respectively.

    My main character is an exception to the rules in that she can manifest both a castle and an armor. At the scene in question, she has already used her armor ability to beat up an evil knight and her castle just manifested in their backyard. And she has absolutely no idea what is going on.

    There's really no reason to go anywhere, as the MC's castle in pretty much the center of her power.

    She does have kind of a dark secret she doesn't want to tell the MC about, but it's relatively easy to hide and not really connected to how the magical world works.

    The other participant of the battle is present in the scene, though he has absolutely no reason to keep the elder sister from talking. If anything it's irresponcible to not tell the MC as much as possible, plus he also wants to know how it's even possible for a woman to be a magic knight.

    I... don't think I'm going to be able to pull that off, honestly.
     
  14. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Valid points. However, he did just learn his father was a powerful Jedi. I would think it would be natural for a great deal of questions to follow that reveal. Granted, its been a long time since I've seen these movies.

    That's difficult. I don't know the story well enough but it seems that part of the problem lies with her power coming early & easy as well as having too much help in understanding early on. Is something after them that could keep her from learning too quickly?
     
  15. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    This is starting to look tricky. The usual answers of "something interrupts them" and "the mentor doesn't want to tell it all at once" don't seem to apply.

    One cheat is to jump slightly forward: "You need to know A, and B, but then--" cut to next scene-- "now that we're outside let's try doing D building on how I also told you about C." It breaks things up just enough to have a sense of variety, with just a little catch-up that's easy to handle.

    Or you might want to bite the bullet and map out a fifteen-page scene, but play up all the things that can spice up the exposition as it goes. Every other point the teacher brings up brings a small debate on what that bit of theory means about who kept what secrets from the MC, what they can do to fight back or why that would be a Bad Idea, and then jumps right back to the lesson at the core of it. Complex, but doable if there's enough to work with; what she's learning could change everything for her, so maybe they try to hash out that much as they go.
     
  16. GregorsMentor

    GregorsMentor Dreamer

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    It does seem that it might be best for the sister to tell her everything, all at once, but the reader doesn't get to listen in. The main character will then just know the info and can run it through in her head as the situation demands, filling the reader in.
     
  17. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    As a reader, this would create a POV issue for me. I would feel cheated & potentially disconnected from the MC's POV if I missed such important info.
     
  18. GregorsMentor

    GregorsMentor Dreamer

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    I suppose it would boil down to whether you want the main character to be a proxy or a guide. I'm often fine with a main character knowing things I don't. If a character is first told how to traverse a maze or solve a puzzle and then they have to traverse the maze or solve the puzzle, I'd rather skip the tutorial and just see them do it. The same could be true with someone having to navigate a strange new magical bureaucracy or a new set of powers. Skip the tutorial and just show her practicing her powers.
     
  19. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I see a vast difference in fast forwarding through something mundane and relatively unimportant to the story as emerging from a maze where nothing of importance takes place vs. all of a sudden understanding a new exciting world and abilities. I understand it's been done before and can be done. I've no issue with that. I'm just speaking from my preference which is to be fully in the head of the POV, feeling what she feels, knowing what she knows.
     
  20. saellys

    saellys Inkling

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    I guess if you want to avoid an infodump, you'll have to change one of these situations. Otherwise it sounds like you should bite the bullet and write it. Or maybe at that point you can skip to a chapter that summarizes the sister's magical career, flashback-style, in the context of explaining how magic works.
     
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