Information Dumps – Don’t be a fly tipping writer!
What’s an Info Dump? Well they’re the paragraph, usually at the start of story, which gives lots information about what’s going on in one big vomit-like spew. The physical equivalent is – going on a first date, shaking hands and saying, “Hi I’m Nicky. I’m a shopaholic horror writer with control issues who loves dogs, hates politics, is obsessed with nail polish, and will only eat yellow food on a Friday. I have an awful sense of direction and drive a lime green car. I dress up at Halloween to scare little children. I own a twelve foot snake called Hubert and can’t walk in heels higher than an inch.” (Only my best friends can tell you which of these statements are really true!)
TOO MUCH INFORMATION! In one long drawn out speech I’ve revealed so much that my poor date will be either physically taking notes or scanning for an exit (depending on how good I look that night!) The same is true in stories. If you feel the need to set up a scene with a mass of information at the front of your story by all means do this in your drafts – but they should never slip through the editing process and end up in your final manuscript. If they do it’ll make your story seem amateurish and worse, boring. A clever writer weaves the information through the story allowing the reader to naturally pick it up as they need it. An easy way of doing this is using dialogue and action. Here’s an opening scene to a story as an example of how this can be done.
Lance and Cindy hated it when their parents would leave them alone at night. Ever since Cindy was little and had imagined a monster in the closet she had been afraid of the dark. Fortunately her older brother Lance had always been there to protect her, although he too had a feeling that the monster in the closet was simply bidding his time. Through the years their fears were found to be irrational and now they were teenagers studying Maths and Science they rarely gave the closet monster a thought, unless Lance felt like teasing Cindy.
WEAVING IT IN WITH DIALOGUE AND ACTION
“Hey, do you remember when you were little and scared of the dark? Oh and the closet monster? You have to remember him.” Lance smiled at his sister over his maths book.
“Shut up! I was little and everyone’s afraid of the dark, and monsters, when they’re little,” Cindy yelled back.
“Don’t be like that sis, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Sorry Lance.” Cindy looked thoughtful, “I remember you always being there to protect me.” Cindy glanced at the closed closet door then picked up her science homework.
Lance nodded his acceptance of the apology and his eye caught the closet door, which somehow had now come ajar.
See the difference? The Information Dump is clunky and heavy handed – lots of information to set the scene up but giving too much away in an obvious intelligence insulting manner. The second still gives all the information of the first but in a much more readable way that is fluid and leading you into the story in not such an ‘in yer face’ way. It’s kind of like the old ‘Show don’t tell’ writing rule. If you read back an Information Dump in your manuscript – re-write it to weave that information in; don’t be lazy folks, think of your reader.
This brings me nicely to my next blog…a writer’s responsibility to their reader.