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. firstname.lastname@example.org
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.