Sunday, September 12, 2010

NO Info Dumping!

Last night the DH and I were watching a movie, same as we do three or four nights per week, every week. This one was actually pretty interesting, but suddenly in the middle, the action ground to a complete halt and one main character gave a five or six minute monologue about his background to the other main character. In the midst of this recitation, my DH muttered, "What an info dump!"

I was almost overcome with pride, because a) it really was a terrible and, for the most part, unnecessary info dump, and b) the DH recognized it as such, which proved that he actually DOES pay attention to some of the things I say!

Info dumps are one of my pet peeves. To me, nothing marks a beginning writer faster than a pile of information just sitting there, usually at the beginning of a story, doing nothing.

Sometimes info dumps are some interesting bits of research the writer uncovered and just can't wait to tell it to the reader.


No matter how interesting the research is, I (the reader) want to read about THE STORY first and foremost.

If the writer absolutely must impart this information (and sometimes it is germane to the story and the reader really DOES need to know) then please weave it into the dialogue or show it through the point-of-view character's thoughts or actions. Please don't toss it into the middle of the scene like a point in an academic lecture that somehow wandered into a novel.

I had to practice what I preach while writing The Wild Sight. I stumbled across an absolutely fascinating piece of scientific information called the Niall Marker during my research and I knew I just had to include it in my story. In fact this interesting tidbit on genetics became an important turning point in my story. But I couldn't just dump the info out there, so I stuck it into dialogue instead.

Rylie could feel her hopes plummeting as Brenna McRory spoke. "How long does that take?"

"Oh, only a day or two," the older woman reassured. "I've all my equipment set up and I was preparing a batch of specimens for my own research project. I've isolated a specific genetic marker and tied it back to the Irish High King, Niall of the Nine Hostages."

"He was the original forefather of the O'Neill clan," the professor interrupted his wife. "And quite a prolific old carouser." He cast a sly glance at Donovan. "I'd say our Donovan would be a good subject to include in your study, Brenna. With his dark hair and blue eyes, he appears to be the only true Celt amongst us. I don't have the marker myself." He brushed at his sandy brown hair and added, "Too much Viking blood."

"I don't mind being part of your study," Rylie quickly volunteered. "Even though I know I'm half Polish."

"A most kind offer," said McRory's wife. "But I'm afraid this marker is gender specific, only found on the male chromosome."

I like to think that was much more interesting than merely sticking in the facts:

The Niall Marker is a gender-s
pecific genetic trait that has been traced back to fifth century High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages. Research studies indicate that as many as fifteen percent of the men in Ireland carry this trait.

And I was able to show (not tell) a bit about the characters too.

I'm also not the only one who has a 'thing' against stinking up prose with info dumps. Mary Buckham recently passed along in her newsletter an article from Writer's Digest about what agents and editors hate to see in Chapter 1. Miriam Hees, an editor from Blooming Tree Press said, "I hate seeing a 'run-down list:' Names, hair color, eye color, height, even weight sometimes."

Or as my DH would say, "What an info dump!"

Have you experienced any info dumps in books or movies lately? Care to share with Aunty? Pretty Please?


Caren Crane said...

AC, I have become keenly aware of this in recent years, too. I was reading something recently (I wish I could remember what it was!) and a male character's weight was actually given. This was not a police procedural, either. I thought, "Why did we need to know that?"

Uh, we didn't and it was obvious. I share your frustration with info dumping, though I've seen less of it in recent years. Hallelujah!

Helen said...


I can't think of any that I have read lately that has had an info dump in it and I don't think that it is something that I would like either but as you say some things need to be in a story and I did love the way you got The Niall marker in the story line in The Wild Sight and it was so interesting and such a great part to the story

Have Fun

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hi Posh!
Thanx for dropping by. :-) I can't even imagine WHY an author would include a character's weight unless it was an important story element.

I think I've judged too many contests (and yes, I'm judging another one even as I type). That is chiefly where I've seen the worst instances of info dumping in writing. I'd like to say these are all newbie unpubbed writers but... AHEM! Not all of them are. :-P


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hi Helen!
Hope you are enjoying your weekend. :-) And thanx for the kudos about the Niall Marker in The Wild Sight. I loved how that piece of info I ran across in my research turned into a key point in my story.

I will confess that the movie I was talking about at the beginning of this post was "The Book Of Eli" with Denzel Washington. Overall I enjoyed the film and it did have some interesting twists at the end. But that CLUNKY scene in the middle where we get his character's entire backstory in one long monologue was AWFUL! :-P


PinkPeony said...

Hi Loucinda!

I've read quite a few a particular author's books. While I enjoyed her books and figured she must have done tons of research in order to write it, there were times when she'd go off on a tangent and discuss the scientific/tech aspects of her research and I felt like I was reading an article from "Scientific American".

For me, it's really hard weaving backstory into dialogue. I love backstory. I could write a companion book on the backstory for each of my characters. :) I'm working on a blog post about it right now. I think the only way I'm going to get it out of my system is to write the backstory as my Nanowrimo entry this year.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Pink!
Thanx for dropping by. Darn right it is WORK! And it is too bad that once an author is published (usually multiple times with a following) s/he can get away with 'breaking rules' that we lesser mortals can't and shouldn't! (Aunty steps down from her soapbox)

OOO! NaNoWriMo is coming up! I've never participated as I always seem to be gadding about in November. Perhaps this year I'll give it a go.