Authorized Thoughts: The Info-Dump–Confessions and Conversations

Last week in a post, I asked about how to handle sex scenes when writing fantasy and/or sci-fi. I was pleased with the discussion generated between here and Facebook and happy to have brought it up. It may come up again. I’ve decided to start raising questions and issues as it pertains to writing and the writing process [mostly fiction, but poetry may sneak back in there]. Now that I’ve locked into daily morning posts, I think every Friday will be an “Authorized Thoughts” post raising topics about writing. Meanwhile, Wednesdays and Sundays have locked in as my Original Poetry posting days. Reviews will continue to hit every Mon-Tu-Th-Sat.

In the last couple of days, a convergence of posts, beta-feedback and reviewing have lent themselves to this weekend’s topic– the info-dump. Without using that dreaded phrase, I was reading a fellow blogger’s original fantasy vignette and had an aversion to a few rather expository paragraphs in a row. No biggie. I wasn’t reviewing the piece, but I also don’t like to just sit back and slow clap [or blindly like something] when thoughtful criticism can help a writer improve. I suggested tying a few of the thoughts back into the action where appropriate to make the exposition feel more natural, ie “not an info-dump”. Meanwhile, a beta-reader of mine called me out personally on an early info-dump in the second chapter of my novel that he’s reading. I totally see it. The entire chapter needs to be re-written. This is not exactly an exciting prospect after spending months doing multiple rounds of re-writes, but he’s right. I’m guilty. I know I did not significantly alter that particular chapter during my re-writes and now I’ve been called on it. Good for him–he’s a keeper. A silent beta-reader is just about worthless. Now that I’m locked in on the problem, I can address it. Being blind to a text issue is the bigger problem. That’s why the world has editors and beta-readers.

Multiple blogs have addressed the dreaded dump in the past couple days, and with reason. For those of us working to better our writing, forced introspection is a good thing. The show-don’t-tell can often be solved by tying the information back into the scene at hand or by offering information into a conversation. Character conversations can be a great thing. That is the most common way that people exchange and share ideas, so why not mimic that. It also lends itself to character building and mood by showing how the various character speak and relay information. There are obviously other ways to achieve the same means. It does not always work to have a pathetically uninformed character in a scene in order to elicit world-building information. I have noticed that trend in space fantasies however. One alien character [or Data on Star Trek: TNG] and there is a man-child just waiting for a blatant dissection of culture and tradition. I have a character that journals just rarely enough to not overdo the action, but characters journalling, blogging, or writing letters also allow for info to be conveyed.

Conversation is still king, however. And that brings me to a topic raised by a blog I saw on Thursday. The blogger was vehemently against using synonyms for the word “say / says / said” in fiction. That’s right–no murmurs, whispers, chortles, screams, laughs, pouts or bragged. Questions were allowed to be asked, in case you were wondering. I’m not sure what I think of this advice. And I would like to know what you think of it. Clearly, the nuances of the synonyms convey tone in ways that a simple he said / she said does not. Tone would need to be conveyed by a different means: word choice, body stance, facial expression, an action. These have merit. I’m just not sure that all synonyms are bad. Mind you, I do like to forgo using he said / she said entirely when I can. I like enough action infused into a conversation to make the speaker obvious. The speaker’s personal ideolect [individual method of speaking and word choice] helps to bolster this method. However every once in a while, a simple he said tag does the trick to keep everyone reading the conversation the same way. I personally detest having to re-read written dialogue in order to figure out who is saying and suggesting what. Then again, suggesting might be out as it’s a nuanced synonym for saying.

What tricks do you employ [or enjoy] to convey information and to avoid the dreaded info-dump other than using dialogue?

Also, what do you think of the moratorium on said-synonyms? I am most curious.


8 responses to “Authorized Thoughts: The Info-Dump–Confessions and Conversations

  1. I am torn on the synonyms for “she said”. When a dialogue passage is well paced and reading is light and fast common tags are barely registered. I don’t think my mind acknowledges them in a meaningful way and it aides in the flow. Whereas “he chortled haltingly” or “she implied sumptuously” draw the eye and mind.

    I am sure when writing it gets monotonous, and when reading technically (meaning the slow, dissecting, focused reading done in mysteries and heavily layered texts) the reader may become aware of the tags. Certainly in audiobooks when a narrator gets in a long dialogue section of short responses it can get ridiculous, but that can be glossed over by a skilled narrator.

    Mechanics of reading aside, I think it comes down to what is happening in the scene. You can step out of the dialogue and mention the tilt of a chin or set of ones feet to imply tone, but Sometimes I need to know if someone is whispering, curt, dismissive, awed, trailing off or building agitation. Embedding tone can nuance the dialogue providing the nonverbal side of communication while the characters are saying all the “right” things.

    “Both can be over-used and under-valued.” he concluded unhelpfully.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Overuse can make a passage read like an extended Tom Swifty joke, in which the adverb / “said”-synonym combination start to take on the tone on a pun or satire. It’s not unlike the pages of Harry Potter in which Harry is yelling in all caps and exclamation points. Yes, it was angsty adolescence, but it was also overdone.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Im always trying to find that balance between info dumping and leaving my reader in the dark. Sometimes we just get so excited about our ideas we cram them in all at once. Flow is important and something I struggle with, especially when I’m trying to add in information after the fact.
    As far as said vs. synonyms, I tend to mix it up. I think I have a pretty good sense when said is appropriate or to use something more descriptive. Maybe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the advice to writers to know their world and characters and places intimately, but to avoid the compulsion to tell it all to the readers. The important stuff will usually come up. Though I did have a beta reader once ask why she was learning something in the 17th chapter that would have been useful 10 chapters earlier. I did not even realize that I had been withholding . . . easy fix, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like reading fiction with massive information-dumping; consequent;y, there is no way I weill be deterred by any of your injunctions from dumping information shamelessly and incessantly.

    Liked by 1 person

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