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Old 04-20-2014, 06:16 PM   #1
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Info dumps. Love em, hate em?

We've spoken of this before, but there's some new kids on the block.

I'm all for sprinkling in backstory, but I suppose an info dump has it's place...not everyone wants to write or read GRRM tomes.

On my mind because I just stared Grisham's The Litigators and the first couple/few chapters are backstory info dumps setting things up for the action. I hope.

So, do you dump or sprinkle, and why?
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Old 04-20-2014, 06:40 PM   #2
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If you mean exposition, then I find it to be something to be avoided at all cost.

Well, unless you're writing something that needs a complex set-up story in order to work, like epic fantasy or scifi or something like that.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....

It is a period of civil war. Rebel
spaceships, striking from a hidden
base, have won their first victory
against the evil Galactic Empire.

bla bla bla...




But for normal stories I am definitely a "sprinkler"...
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Old 04-20-2014, 06:51 PM   #3
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Exposition can be sprinkled and interwoven. I've read complex stories/worlds in sci fi that are revealed as the story progresses...can be confusing for awhile.

But I'm talking about backstory and setting essentials revealed like a vita or syllabus...here's the info you need before we get to the story.
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Old 04-20-2014, 07:03 PM   #4
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Show rather than tell is usually better, but I don't think that means info dumps should be avoided or fought against. When needed, however, they should be written with care. Let's revisit the quoted by Strangelife:
Quote:
Originally Posted by StrangeLife View Post

It is a period of civil war. Rebel
spaceships, striking from a hidden
base, have won their first victory
against the evil Galactic Empire.
Which is quick, engaging, sets the tone, etc. Now compare that to the opening info dump of Phantom Menace:
Quote:
Turmoil has engulfed the
Galactic Republic. The taxation
of trade routes to outlying star
systems is in dispute.

Hoping to resolve the matter
with a blockade of deadly
battleships, the greedy Trade
Federation has stopped all
shipping to the small planet
of Naboo....etc.
The reader goes blank at the words "taxation" and "trade routes" as these sound pretty boring and complicated, not fun at all. And there are a lot of things named that we don't recognize or now how to feel about ("Galactic Republic, Trade Federation, Naboo).

BAD info dump. Wastes time, creates more questions, is flat out boring, etc.

So, I would say that maybe the question we've been asking about info dumps is wrong. It's not a matter of use them or not, but rather, how to create good ones when needed, and how to know when they're needed.
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Old 04-20-2014, 07:13 PM   #5
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I probably do a bit of both. I might drop a detail here or there, but at some point, more information will be needed, and so I give it. If that's considered an info dump, then I guess I do that from time to time.

But there's no right way to do it, and one story might require very little of this and another might require a lot. So it all depends -- as so much does.
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Old 04-20-2014, 07:23 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 3113 View Post
So, I would say that maybe the question we've been asking about info dumps is wrong. It's not a matter of use them or not, but rather, how to create good ones when needed, and how to know when they're needed.
Agreed!
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Old 04-20-2014, 07:32 PM   #7
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Also, I agree the Star Wars into was well done. Though it was more of a framework rather than the kind of chapters I'm seeing with this Grisham book...3 might have it right; it's nicely written, the dump itself is a bit character interlaced (3 person law office), has some humor and defines the characters. Still, might be a bit lazy given the other Grisham books I recall.
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Old 04-20-2014, 08:53 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 3113 View Post
So, I would say that maybe the question we've been asking about info dumps is wrong. It's not a matter of use them or not, but rather, how to create good ones when needed, and how to know when they're needed.
I think, given the responses here, that our definition of "info-dump" has expanded beyond the realm of automatic rejection. For me, the derogatory term, "info-dump," applies primarily to "reward poster" style character descriptions and/or back story. It does NOT apply to necessary world-building exposition; although that can be poorly done, too, rather than being an automatic "fail."
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Old 04-20-2014, 09:01 PM   #9
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I hadn't read a Stephen King book in awhile, but when he came out with Black House(co written with Peter Straub and a sequel to the Talisman) I checked it out and.... gave up

The first 100+ pages were describing the damn down and everyone who lived in it in sickening detail. Way too much info. It was like "here is everything you need to know, now...."
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Old 04-20-2014, 09:09 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lovecraft68 View Post
I hadn't read a Stephen King book in awhile, but when he came out with Black House(co written with Peter Straub and a sequel to the Talisman) I checked it out and.... gave up

The first 100+ pages were describing the damn down and everyone who lived in it in sickening detail. Way too much info. It was like "here is everything you need to know, now...."
There ya go.
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Old 04-20-2014, 09:29 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lovecraft68 View Post
I hadn't read a Stephen King book in awhile, but when he came out with Black House(co written with Peter Straub and a sequel to the Talisman) I checked it out and.... gave up

The first 100+ pages were describing the damn down and everyone who lived in it in sickening detail. Way too much info. It was like "here is everything you need to know, now...."
I probably wouldn't have started. "The Talisman" was one of the most boring books I've read.
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Old 04-20-2014, 09:39 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PennLady View Post
I probably wouldn't have started. "The Talisman" was one of the most boring books I've read.
Its funny you say that.

I thought it was so good when I read it, but I think I might have been sixteen.

I tried to reread it years later and you're right. I kept skimming to where the decent parts were.

Long ago King got to that point of editors being afraid to cut anything from him.

Speaking of info dumps. Rice's Mayfair witches was 1000 pages and hundreds of it a family history.
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Old 04-20-2014, 10:09 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lovecraft68 View Post
Its funny you say that.

I thought it was so good when I read it, but I think I might have been sixteen.

I tried to reread it years later and you're right. I kept skimming to where the decent parts were.
I read this in high school; oddly enough, at a Catholic school (!!) my teacher assigned it. I just thought it was dull. I'm a King fan, so I kind of blamed Straub. Which probably wasn't entirely fair. Although I also admit that "Gerald's Game" bored me as well, and that was just King.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lovecraft68 View Post
Long ago King got to that point of editors being afraid to cut anything from him.

Speaking of info dumps. Rice's Mayfair witches was 1000 pages and hundreds of it a family history.
Personally I don't think editing is necessarily King's problem. I generally find his books pretty engaging, regardless of the length. Looking forward to reading "Doctor Sleep," actually.

Yeah, Rice's witch books got on my nerves. It's one thing to write a long book, but she had those pages and pages that probably should have been their own novels. Except they would have been, y'know, boring...
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Old 04-20-2014, 10:18 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PennLady View Post
I read this in high school; oddly enough, at a Catholic school (!!) my teacher assigned it. I just thought it was dull. I'm a King fan, so I kind of blamed Straub. Which probably wasn't entirely fair. Although I also admit that "Gerald's Game" bored me as well, and that was just King.



Personally I don't think editing is necessarily King's problem. I generally find his books pretty engaging, regardless of the length. Looking forward to reading "Doctor Sleep," actually.

Yeah, Rice's witch books got on my nerves. It's one thing to write a long book, but she had those pages and pages that probably should have been their own novels. Except they would have been, y'know, boring...
See I blamed King only because two of the best horror novels I have ever read were Straub's Floating Dragon and Shadowland. Ghost story was also well done. KIng began to get boring to me after Pet Sematary which I would put in my top ten.
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:15 PM   #15
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I hate it when the characters are all described right at the beginning of a story and then not again through multiple chapters. I have seen this so many times, where I have no idea who is who because the author thinks that all of his descriptions at the beginning of chapter 1 were enough, and that no reminders will ever be needed later on.

That is a very Lit specific answer, but it's the one that comes to mind every time I see this topic.
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Old 04-21-2014, 01:10 AM   #16
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For my taste, I think too many LIT stories go too far in the opposite direction. Story starts with a conversation between two people. Then the character descriptions are dropped in. (eye roll) Give me a reason to care about these two people. That's the job of exposition.

While I don't claim to be a writer, I have read writing tomes that encourage the author to "set the scene." If, in setting the scene, you include a little backstory, it can make the character's words and actions much more compelling. Contrast that approach with the advice to start out with some action that will hook the reader. Good theory, but starting out with a mundane conversation isn't action, it's just boring.

Every story is different. For me it boils down to conflict. If there's no conflict apparent in the first couple of paragraphs, (either set up by exposition or action) and if the characters aren't interesting, I have no reason to continue reading.
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Old 04-21-2014, 01:38 AM   #17
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I think info dumps only become 'info dumps' when you start thinking of them as info dumps. If the info is woven into the story, all is well. It is only when you start consciously thinking 'Why am I being told all of this?', that it becomes a problem. That is the point at which the info starts to get in the way of the story. It is also the point at which the reader may stop reading.
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Old 04-21-2014, 02:03 AM   #18
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I think info dumps are fine if they're interesting and relevant, but obviously there are limits.

The last story I put up started life as a general musing about an observation I'd made. It wasn't a long story and about a tenth of it was this kind of prologue. It was a little rambling and I'm sure it turned off some readers, but it was relevant and established my protagonist as someone who over thinks things. I hope that it also made some readers chuckle (or at least smile) in recognition of what I was talking about.

If you're writing a multi-chapter piece, especially if its setting is outside of the readers' likely experience, then a reasonable info dump is fine. With some stories I've read a bit of background would've been welcome. If you're going to embark on this journey then it's not much to ask that you give the author the time to set you up with necessary information. Of course, the author's job is to make it interesting enough.

What has me abandoning a story with glazed eyes is a paragraph listing the physical attributes of one or more of the characters. The size of Mandy's breasts and her height aren't going to mean a thing to me in three paragraphs when we've got her over the taboo of fucking her brother.
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Old 04-21-2014, 07:07 AM   #19
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I start some of my stories with an info dump - particularly Tripletit and Shelacta.

Both are set in fantasy worlds. Without the info dump, the parameters of the worlds would be difficult to express. For later chapters in Shelacta, I put the info dump as an appendix.

J T Edson's Western Stories often start with an info dump that most of his readers skip - because they know all that from previous books.
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Old 04-21-2014, 07:30 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheeGoatPig View Post
I hate it when the characters are all described right at the beginning of a story and then not again through multiple chapters. I have seen this so many times, where I have no idea who is who because the author thinks that all of his descriptions at the beginning of chapter 1 were enough, and that no reminders will ever be needed later on.

That is a very Lit specific answer, but it's the one that comes to mind every time I see this topic.
I get that in novels sometimes too, when the author has too many unmemorable characters who all begin with the same initial and fifteen chapters in I'm trying to remember the difference between Jack and John.
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Old 04-21-2014, 07:34 AM   #21
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I get that in novels sometimes too, when the author has too many unmemorable characters who all begin with the same initial and fifteen chapters in I'm trying to remember the difference between Jack and John.
I try to avoid that because if I don't - I can get myself confused and give the characters the wrong names later in the story, or put words in the wrong person's mouth.
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Old 04-21-2014, 07:40 AM   #22
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Post Complex question and answer.

It all depends on what kind of story it is and how much you need to know to understand it so that the reading becomes meaningful and understandable.
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Old 04-21-2014, 07:45 AM   #23
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I get that in novels sometimes too, when the author has too many unmemorable characters who all begin with the same initial and fifteen chapters in I'm trying to remember the difference between Jack and John.
That's kind of why I never read Lord Of The Rings: too many names that I couldn't pronounce and therefore remember. Why can't it just be Dave from Keating? I guess if the names are normal it's not fantasy
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Old 04-21-2014, 08:27 AM   #24
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I try to avoid that because if I don't - I can get myself confused and give the characters the wrong names later in the story, or put words in the wrong person's mouth.
That is why I keep my own personal info dump at the bottom of every file of a story that I am writing. I have all of my characters, their ages, relationships, and pertinent details all outlined for quick reference. I use it for quick checking of who is who and how old, and it is up to me to weave it into the story as required. If I add characters, the first place I add them is my outline/info dump (usually, exceptions will occur).

This info dump never sees the light of publication.
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Old 04-21-2014, 08:59 AM   #25
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It depends on how interesting the dump info is.
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