How Info-dumping Drags Down Good Writing

January 15, 2013

One of the NaNo participants and I worked on critiquing an excerpt of hers. She had a good start, a good story and a nice voice in telling it. So my only feedback had to do with “telling”, where she could be “showing” in her excerpt.

Once she had my feedback many follow-up questions came up.

She wrote:

Phew. I’ve never had anything critiqued before and I had no idea what to expect. Your positive comments really make me feel better about my ability as a writer, so thank you for that. I do have some questions, though. I hope I don’t come off as being stubborn or defensive. It’s not my intention.

In the first paragraph, I’m not sure why the things you mentioned need work. Maybe I’m just misunderstanding, but you seem to be saying that I shouldn’t have the descriptions in there. I thought that describing was important.

So we went back and forth several times, until finally. I showed her what I meant with a physical edit of her original version.

We started with her work- I gave the feedback right in the body of her work:

Before: with a bit too much info-dumping of the bits of story you want to get across to the reader. Look at the bits I call out in the feedback.

“I’m sorry, stepmother. I couldn’t sleep, so I came here to read, but I must have been more tired than I thought.” Genevieve said. <<Good work here, clean and storytelling in how you put this.
“Well, a volume of our victories is certainly one way to cure insomnia.” Lydia smiled at her stepdaughter sympathetically.

“It’s actually very interesting. Telling this for the reader>> [It tells of how our kingdom was born and the seven champions  who founded it all those centuries ago.”] Genevieve said, perking up and forgetting her bad dream. “I only wish I could find out more about who they were and what they did before founding this country. Especially the grand lady who became the first queen More telling things to the reader here>>[of  Catranonia alongside Rudolphus, the first king.] He loved her so much, he even named the Shire after her–”

Lydia put up a hand to stop Genevieve and laughed lightly.

“Yes, I know. I had to learn all of these things before your father would marry me, after all.”

“Oh, of course.” Genevieve looked away sheepishly. “I’m sorry.”

After: where the info is not lost, but now it’s incorporated into the storytelling, so it feels less reader-feeder-ish.

“I’m sorry, stepmother. I couldn’t sleep, so I came here to read,” Genevieve said, “but I must have been more tired than I thought.”

Queen Lydia smiled at her stepdaughter sympathetically, as Genevieve rushed on,
“It’s actually very interesting, how our kingdom was born.” She said, perking up and forgetting her bad dream. “I only wish I could find out who they were all those centuries ago, the seven champions. What they did before founding this country. Especially Catranonia, the grand lady, becoming the first queen alongside king Rudolphus… He loved her so much, even naming the Shire afte–”

Lydia put up a hand to stop Genevieve and laughed lightly. “Yes, I know. I had to learn all these things before your father would marry me, after all.”

“Oh, of course.” Genevieve looked away sheepishly. “I’m sorry.”

***********************************************************

These of course are the smallest of changes. And a majority of the original text was retained. Editing doesn’t have to mean re-writing a scene from scratch when you get feedback saying you work has too much info dumping, and not enough storytelling.

The novice I worked with wrote this once she saw the two versions side by side:

Ok, now that I’ve read your edited version, I do think I understand what you meant. Instead of separating the majority of description and such into its own clumps, I should be including it with the actions & as dialogue. Also, it should be more spread out through the scene instead of just  together in one place. I guess that’s what they call an “info dump”? I thought you were telling me to get rid of it all, but I thought I must be misunderstanding because that didn’t make sense.

The things I showed her with my feedback, calling out narration and description and such in the story, were the mixing of telling with showing in the story first.
The really good stories show us the story with less telling.
Which is why I was able to call those bits out to her attention. Because they came across as telling, and not mixed into in scene writing, and she really did have a good story going here.

How about your work. After reading these two examples of before and after clean-ups, can you see ways to bring your story’s information bits into its narration & dialogue?

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3 Responses to “How Info-dumping Drags Down Good Writing”

  1. kanundra Says:

    Excellent. 🙂 I’ll come back for a better read tomorrow. So I can digest it all before we work together. 🙂

  2. Dragon Says:

    Umm, are you really just giving this info out for nohntig?

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