Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Info-dumping, a few thoughts

When I did my first snapshots post (reviewing a small number of SFF samples) one thing that struck me was the varying approach taken by the authors when it comes to the problem of informing the reader about necessary backstory, without splurging information in a wall of text (info-dumping).

The background is, as the name suggests, just there as a backdrop for the action, it shouldn’t be the mainstay of the story. There’s only so much information people can, or want to, take on board at once. If you throw constant references to past events and new character names, keeping track becomes difficult. And reading for relaxation shouldn’t be about trying to remember a splurge of information.

There’s also a trade-off with pace. Beginnings can work whether fast or slow, but the more backstory you include the slower the pace. If you have a dramatic fight scene right at the start, and keep banging on about the past events of the protagonist, you slow down the action and rob it of urgency, making something that should be fast into something turgid.

Fantasy and sci-fi often have a lot of backstory and putting it into context (after all, there’s usually a whole new world to try and get across to the reader, although this should be done where it informs the story not to flood them with irrelevant information) without erecting a wall of info-dumping can be tricky. Character interaction can help. As well as fleshing out individuals, if someone’s mocked for a certain accent, you introduce [without it being clunky] the differing nations. Instead of writing ‘she was a man-hater’ you could have a woman mock a chap as a ‘fallopian-deprived ape’. If someone has long sleeves, they can dip in a drink or the sauce/gravy of their meal.

In short: show don’t tell, where possible.

That’s easier said than done, of course. [I’ll be doing more snapshot reviews in the future. At the moment, I’ve got books to read, so it’ll be a little while].


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