Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Info Dump

I really want to whine about my novel writing, complain about the doubt gremlins and the doldrums of Week Two, but instead, I'm going to do an actual blog post about writing. Here it goes.

We writers like to call a dense block of information that doesn't move the story forward an Info Dump.

Incoming Info Dump - watch your toes
Have you ever been reading a story that is moving at a good clip, and then all of a sudden, the action slows down and you are innundated with all of this information - about the character, the magic system, the class structure, the geography of the world, or a long-winded story about how everyone knows each other or the origin of everything?

I hope not, because that's poor writing. The writer should feed you that stuff gradually, so you don't even notice it, because you absorb it along with the story as it plays out.

Or rather, I suppose a blatant info dump is more poor editing, not poor writing.

Because the info dump is actually a very useful tool for writers in our early drafts. It sometimes will read like a flow of consciousness, where we work things out as we type. We tap into the creative side of our brains and give it free reign.

It is like we are walking around in the world, describing what we see, feeling our way along, watching the details unfold. It helps us establish the world we are creating. Helps us get to know our characters - we listen to their backstories and their opinions on various topics that are sometimes irrelevant to the story itself. We work out the intricate details of government organization, or religion, or society structure.

All of that is important information for the author to know, but how much does the reader need to be exposed to? Small, edible chunks that flesh out the world or characters without detracting from the story that is being told.

What it comes down to is that a lot of the info dump details might not make it into the final book itself. But the writer knows, and can therefore write a convincing story in a fully formed world with those details in mind.

I stagnated on my Nano story for a couple of days, but I sat down and did some timed word sprints with my Wrimos last night, and got about 1500 words written. Those words, I realized when I was done, are a giant info dump. I know a lot of it will either be cut up and inserted/distributed elsewhere, and the rest will be shucked off for the second draft, remaining only in my mind and my notes.

But I also know that I was in desperate need of that info dump. I hadn't delved too far into this new world of demons and humans that I created off the cuff for this story. I have a better understanding of it all now. I was so focused on the needs of my individual characters, I hadn't thought about the demon population as a whole. What does this entire species want? Why would they even need a dating website?

And so I came up with the past, present, and future of the demon races.

So while many of you may never see what I wrote last night, it was an enlightening evening of writing, and it boosted my wordcount significantly.

And now I am moving on to the point of view of my serial killer. Should be an interesting couple of days.


  1. The info dump is often a critical tool in non-fiction writing, particularly where there are page limitations. For the grant I'm writing, if I don't info-dump, we get dinged on points, because the reviewers need to have that information up front and easily referenced. One of the differences between tech and creative writing.


  2. You know what I'm afraid of? That the first 20,000 words I've written this month are really just backstory that won't make it into the novel by the time I'm done. While there are certainly some 'info dump' passages, your point on how essential these are in the Zero Draft is spot on and well taken.

    My guess is that neither one of us will lose the entirety of what we've written in those sections. We'll just find a way to re-use them or just cut them down to the essential bits.

    Great post and wonderful insight into the creative process, Sara!

  3. Aspen - you make me very glad I write creatively. I would feel so backwards and wrong writing that way!

    Jason - well, backstory in and of itself is still story! We may get to keep more than we think. I'm going to rely on all of you to help me extract the essential info from the info dump heaps during the manuscript swap!