Friday, 14 August 2015

Info-Dumping & Why You Shouldn't Do It - The Creative Process

Info-Dumping & Why You Shouldn't Do It

As I've mentioned before in numerous posts, research is one of the many things a writer has to do when they're creating new worlds. Posts on this topic can be found here & here. It can be one of the more fun parts of writing, because even when
 a story is set in your own original world, you still need to carry out some world building and for that,  you get to use hard facts as well as your imagination. But the issue I'm talking about today is what is affectionately called "Info-Dumping", and it's something you really want to avoid at all costs.

Now, I can understand the attraction, and I've been guilty of doing it myself on occasion. When you've spent a good few hours, days or even weeks researching how a certain thing should be done (in my case, usually a murder or something equally grisly) then you want to be able to show off that you actually did do the research and include all that you can in the dialogue and exposition. However, nothing else will pull your readers out of the cosy world you've built faster than a fourteen page lecture on how forensics work, or how fast a certain car can actually go. It may be fun to include it for your own reference, but if there's no real need for a character to talk about it, or for the reader to know, then it shouldn't be there.

I am grateful to have my excellent editing team, who make sure that I don't go on for pages and pages about how DNA evidence is collected, tested and used to catch a suspect, but it wasn't always like that. Back in the early days of my writing career, I was very happy to include as much information as I could find on a certain subject and it wasn't until someone else read it and told me that it took away from the writing, that I began to see that it wasn't needed. I would spend hours reading about a certain forensic technique and would make copious notes, but would then find that actually I didn't need to write about x or y and while it was disappointing, you have to be firm with yourself and make sure that you're telling the story and not just giving people irrelevant facts that they could find on their own if they wanted.

I don't mean facts that are relevant, such as how your characters managed to track down a killer, or how they escaped from a bound chair when kidnapped: those things do need to be in your work. That becomes a case of showing and not just telling, which I'll discuss in another piece. A good way to think about the difference between the two is to think about what YOU would like to read if the story were written by someone else. Would you really want to know every detail of a contract that was signed and never mentioned again? Or would you prefer it be kept to a simple sentence or two? If you're using so much researched information that it becomes likely that you'll need to include a list of sources, then maybe it's about time to actually start thinking less is more.

I get why writers (myself included) want to include all that information. Like I said, it's an exciting prospect to have the facts to back up your fiction and to justify certain choices, but if it starts to look more like a piece of formal writing that you'd hand in to be marked by a teacher, then it's probably too much information. There is a certain level of pride that I know I have when I write something and know that it is as accurate as I could've made it, but sometimes as a writer you have to be happy to just know that you did your research and leave it at that. While something pivotal to the plot should be included, there really isn't any need to include what kind of toothpaste your character uses and their favourite flavour of ice cream. Just because you've thought of these things, it doesn't mean that your reader needs to know, or will even care. I mean, taking that example, unless the ice cream is going to be a clue that leads them to being rescued or if the toothpaste is actually poisoned, there's no need to tell your reader all the things you know about your main character.

So yes, sometimes less is more, and info-dumping is something that should be avoided at all costs. You're writing a work of fiction and that means that some things are sometimes better left to the imagination. If you could see yourself having the conversation with the character in a relaxed setting, then maybe it needs to be there, if not, do yourself a favour and scale back on the researched information. It certainly makes life a lot easier in the editing process at least! Your mileage may, of course, vary.

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