The Dreaded Sag

This is a post about writing, I promise.

Since I write fantasy, I know a lot about killing tension. Fantasy and other spec-fic writers have a ton of information and backstory to convey, and more often than not this results in the story coming to a screeching halt. Epic fantasy, in particular, tends toward long, drawn-out ‘saggy bits’ that can try even the most patient reader’s tolerance.

So, as I wrestle over my own cartload of infodumpery, I’ve been trying to figure out the solution. Read more

Information through Scenes

I don’t care what they’ve told you–you can’t show everything. Some things you need to tell.

Exposition is necessary, especially for spec-fic writers who can’t rely on their readers to already be familiar with the story’s setting. The trouble for me comes when I’m trying to figure out what information is necessary, and how to communicate it without breaking the flow of the story and boring the reader (or myself) to death.

I’ve found it useful to think of my scenes as vehicles for information. The information gets broken up into digestible chunks, and I also have to justify the existence of every scene–it has to be pulling its weight by moving the plot forward and revealing character.

Before starting a scene, I’ll write down exactly what information I need to communicate. A lesson I’ve learned is that it’s better to work this out before I come up with the events themselves–otherwise I find myself trying to awkwardly stuff the info around events that I’m too fond of to cut, but might not be the best vehicle.¬†

Once I’ve worked out that I need to communicate¬†this, this, and this,¬†I can come up with a series of events that will best showcase the necessary information through action and dialogue rather than solid exposition.

Orson Scott Card has a great article about revealing information and backstory on his website Hatrack River (along with a lot of other good stuff).

An excerpt from the article:

Make sure you’re beginning the story in the right place. If you immediately have to do flashbacks, etc., chances are you simply began too close to the end and you need to let us see, in correct linear time order, the events that you’re flashing back to.

If you begin at the right place, but there is information known to the characters that needs to be told to the readers, you can often lay it in, piece by piece, right where it’s actually needed.

You can read the rest of the article here.

~ RM

Info Dumps

infodumpThe release of background information is one of the biggest things a writer (of any genre) has to struggle with. Too much, too soon, can create what is called an “info dump”. You’ve all seen them: a big, giant paragraph (or more!) of information that is probably important, but it’s boring.As a reader, too often I find myself skimming over these hefty passages in search of some actual story going on.

Info dumps are an especially big problem for writers of speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, etc) because more often than not we’re introducing entirely new worlds, cultures, systems of magic and alternate natural laws. This requires us to communicate a very large amount of information–whereas writers of other genres can usually depend on their readers to already know many of the “rules” governing the setting. Read more