Monday 24 September 2018

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Info-Dumping


You've probably heard all about this right? I mean, most writers know about this, and it's a fairly common piece of advice that you hear. Exposition and info-dumping should never be done no matter who you are. You'll probably hear a lot of different people say it. You hear a lot of contradicting advice about it too because you'll read one author who does it and gets away with it, and then read another who's telling you that it is the sign of a lazy writer and therefore should never be done. It's kinda hard to work out which one to follow and which one is the industry's actual truth.

But never fear, for I am here to talk to you about it properly. I've put this under the crime writer heading because I generally find that's when information is most needed for both the characters and the reader. The majority of people don't know how crime scenes work, they don't know the ins and outs, and when you're writing a book that deals with a degree of closeness to the police or person solving the crime, you, the writer, will be doing a ton of research about it to make sure you know what you're doing. But there's the thing, while tempting to dump all that information about how DNA is found and how a fingerprint is lifted, you don't need to.

The majority of the time, the reader is reading because they like the crime genre for a wide variety of reasons, they won't be reading to get the most up to date details about fingerprints and DNA. So in that regard, as much as it sucks, you can't flood the pages with the intricate details of how it works...unless it's relevant to the story. Now I know what you're thinking, it sounds like I'm being a bit wishy-washy with it, right? How do you tell the difference between something you should share and something that's an info-dump? I have some tips for you, so hang on tight!


If the piece of information you're wanting to supply is something the story can't work without, then it's not an info-dump, it's something you need to include. You can find a way to do this without just lots and lots of exposition, but of course that's going to depend on your own writing style, the story and the piece of information itself. If you think it's something the reader could understand the story without, then you might need to cut it and let the scene stand without it. This is a good thing to check with your beta readers - if they read the scene with unanswered questions, it might be a case of needing to give them some of the background.

With the hype of CSI and other crime scene shows, a lot of things about fingerprinting, DNA, crime scenes are actually already widely known. So if you're getting to a scene where you wanna talk about something that you feel needs to be explained, ask yourself if it's something that the reader could know without your input. This kinda ties into the first question because if it's something the story works without and it's something the average reader would know, then that exposition is probably not needed. However on the flip side, if you're introducing something either not well-known or even something you've made up yourself (as I did in Walk A Mile) then you might need to explain things. But again, don't be heavy on the info, you wanna sprinkle, not dump into the scene.

This is a big thing, one of the reasons so many places tell you not to info-dump is because it messes with the pacing of the story. Think about it, if you're in a fast-paced scene, you don't wanna be stopping the action to explain things to your readers. That just ruins the scene for the reader and is a no-no. If you can provide the information needed, and you've checked with the other two points, then you need to either wait until the scene has passed, or you need to find a way to weave it in without effecting the pacing of the story. Put it this way, if this were a film and they had to pause the action for the voice over to give you details that either aren't needed, or you're already aware of, it's gonna have an effect on your enjoyment of it.

So those are my top three questions when it comes to info-dump. I find that if you can work your way through each of them, you'll have a pretty good idea about whether or not you need to include that information. Of course, your mileage may vary, but I find these work for me. Now go forth and write!

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