Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing Craft: Information Dump

Greetings all. I am feeling better, but this bronchitis seems to have a high relapse issue since I've suffered three relapses so far. Ugh.

Today on the Writing Craft we are talking about the dreaded Information Dump. What is it? How do you prevent it?

As discussed in previous post too much information can take the form of back story. To read these post go here. However, Information Dump is really about learning way too much cool, boring or irrelevant stuff about the character's profession, talent, skill, town and so on. While you are conducting your research you've written everything down. You have taken notes and side notes and pictures. You collected a lot of Information. So now is the task of how much to include.

Hold your breath, I'm about to break your heart. Sorry in advance.

You only include enough to make the story believable. Now that translates to all of you completely differently. So I will illustrate.

In my epic fantasy, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, I had to research map making and the art of the survey. Okay, maybe not an art to some, but I bet it is to the professional surveyor. Luckily, my brother surveyed in college and I sent off an email to him. He sent back detailed information. Next I researched how long people have surveyed…think ancient Egypt though the Romans were masters. Then I had to look at the actual equipment that might have been used in medieval times. Needless to say, I had a lot of Information.
My first through eighth draft was so full of information that my critique group kept shaking their heads at me. I tooled back and it was still too much. So to let you see what actually turned up in Chapter two of my fantasy here is an excerpt.

Prince Healden has approached the mapmaker Newlyn to check on his progress:

Newlyn bent over his work, spreading the needle legs of the compass on the map that lay on the long table. As he worked, he referred to a small slate with measurements recorded in chalk. He dipped the quill into an ink bottle, and added the twisting line of a stream to the parchment. The giant redwoods that surrounded the meadow on three sides were indicated on the parchment by an outline bearing the name Northwode.

As you can see, very little of the act of making maps and survey equipment is in this paragraph. It is just enough to give flavor to the story. The needle legs of the compass, the measurements recorded in chalk, the quill pen and ink bottle. The reader will fill in the blanks. They will understand that there is an instrument being used without me telling them and a slate is a better term for this time period than a chalk board. Think of information as the seasoning in a fine dish. Most people don't use an entire garlic bulb in their spaghetti only one to five cloves according to taste. Too much salt spoils the recipe. Too much information spoils the story telling. The reader is dumped into engineering school or some other class room scenario. Your characters and your world didn't go with them. You risk your book being set aside never to be read again.

Does this help? If you need more specific help I do offer classes, just email me and we'll talk.

Riya wants to know how a writer decides on a genre since she reads in many different genres.        
Alex J. Cavanaugh wants to know how he can add enough description the first time through.
Golden Eagle and Michael Di Gesu wanted to know about back story and information dump.  
Nas Dean wants to know about show don't tell.        
Mike Rushhoeft suggested a list of words to avoid. Good idea Mike.

To add your topic just let me know what you struggle with or have questions about in the comments.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nancy .. that says it perfectly .. the description fits .. the surveyor bent low over his work ..

More importantly I'm glad you're feeling better - and hope the bronchitis stays away .. Hilary

LTM said...

you are so right about the balance of information. And just like being a good cook and spicing food, it takes practice to get it right! And good betas/critters/tasters. :D

This is great, Nancy, and I sure hope you're feeling better soon! Bronchitis is tough. <3

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Hilary,
I'm glad my excerpt did the trick for you.

Hi Leigh,
Balance is an excellent word to use for information in our stories.

Thank you both for your well wishes and for coming by and reading my post.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

We need to learn enough to sound intelligent when writing, but the reader doesn't need to know most of what we know.

N. R. Williams said...

You've got it Alex.

Nick Rolynd said...

Ah, yes. Balancing new information can be quite hard at times in writing, but you hit the nail on the head. Thanks for the post.

- Nick @ Whispers

Jules said...

But this only applies to fiction right? Because I think my new leaf blower manual took this approach. :)

Glad you are better Nancy, I'm telling you bourbon.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

N. R. Williams said...

Nice to meet you Nick and thanks.

Hi Jules, manuals are dull indeed and usually poorly written. LOL

Thank you both for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Kittie Howard said...

Great stuff, Nancy. Thanks! Happy you're feeling a bit better.

Since I'm like a fly to honey when it comes to Medieval books, I bought what looked like an interesting book about a stonemason. About half way through, I couldn't take any more detail. Having said that, when we were in Vienna this summer what I had read helped greatly.

Southpaw said...

I did the "too much" in my first draft. When I read through it was when I realized how much if it was only useful for me and boring to everybody else!

L'Aussie said...

Hi Nancy! Three relapses, poor you! Please take care...

I couldn't agree more. We need to do the research for our own veracity but only include what is absolutely necessary. That is what I have to decide on my latest story. I've needed to read so much about Afghanistan but how much to include is the question?


N. R. Williams said...

Thank you Kittie, Holly and Denise for coming by.

Osama Zain said...

So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Egypt but i want to say thing to u Ancient Egypt not that only ... you can see in Ancient Egypt Ra God The Sun God and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,,