Don’t dump on your readers. The Authors Collection

Info dump

AN EXCERPT FROM MY THIRD NOVEL, a work in progress titled, A Year Without Killing, appeared in this BLOG and introduced a technical topic. It was unnecessary to go into great detail, just give the reader the basics so they would understand that my main character applied a learned skill out of habit.

Fellow author, “Sarah W,” posted this comment, “You have a real talent for including intriguing facts about Claudia’s thought processes and actions, while avoiding infodump. She’s such a terrific character!” (Thanks again, Sarah.) http://wessonblog.wordpress.com/

When I hear the term, “infodump,” the first name that comes to mind is that of the late author, Tom Clancy. Others who fit into that category include James Michener and Michael Crichton. No doubt readers can rattle off the names of other authors whom some feel provide “more information than I want to know.”

On the other end of the technology spectrum for a writer, simply saying, “The woman shot her gun,” is not sufficient to stand alone. Readers deserve more.

Timex watchHow much more?

It depends.

In the above example, we can ask:

Who was shooting?

What was the target?

What were the circumstances of the shot?

Does credibility call for details?

Suppose she was rabbit hunting? Anyone who has ever watched Elmer Fudd hunting “wabbits,” knows you use a shotgun, not a rifle. Rabbits move too quickly for a single slug. When hunters go after small, fast-moving game, they need the “shotgun” effect of scattered pellets.

Do we need to know the make and model?

Unlike the situation in the movies where companies pay for product placement, authors don’t often receive compensation for their choice of product. But my editor likes to know. He feels that readers do as well.

It adds credibility. Uninformed readers can learn something and readers who are familiar with the technical aspect of the story will identify with ease. Both appreciate the author’s research.

My rule of thumb: Tell them it’s a Timex Ironman Triathlon, but don’t tell them how the watch works.

TheTouristKiller-3dLeft-245x300

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  • Sarah W

    Terrific advice–and “timely”, too. 🙂

    • I supposed I could have included, “Tell them what time it is.” Thanks for stopping by!

      • Caleb Pirtle

        No use telling them what time it is, Chip. In a thriller, it’s always too late.

  • ‘A gun’ is lazy writing. A detailed exposition that tells how this particular Colt was designed and manufactured, along with all its performance statistics, is overkill (aka infodump) for MOST readers.

    The right place in between comes with experience – or editing.

    It is very hard for me to go back to my favorite writers and read like a writer instead of a reader. I tend to get pulled into the story, and I don’t necessarily want to ruin that writer for myself. But sometimes it’s necessary, because my taste has been formed by my experience – plus my reading.

    A part of a rule of thumb might be: don’t put it in because you think you have to – if it bores YOU to tears. If, when re-reading your own work, there are pieces YOU skip, take them out. Presumably readers pay for that fine-tuned sense of the porridge being ‘just right.’

    If you like it, but your current readers, including betas, tend to skip it – find better readers.

    • Thanks, Alicia. Appreciated your comment and especially I liked your last line!

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Brilliant post, Chip. I read too many novels that dump a lot of information that has nothing to do with the plot, the characters, or the story. I think the writers are trying to fill up pages or just showing off.

  • Chip, I think you are striking just the right balance. A car is one thing, a ’57 Chevy Impala another.

  • Darlene Jones

    Better to leave them wanting more! I like authors who give me enough info for the story. If I want more I do the research.

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