I had a bit of a breakthrough with my HOA series last week. I’d been struggling for some time about the backstory of a primary character. I knew, at some point, I’d need to fill the reader in about how she developed into the character the reader is introduced to early in Book Three.
Once I had the breakthrough, I immediately sat down to put the information on the page. What developed was a scene in which another character simply asks her, to paraphrase, “What’s your story?” And she tells him.
Does it get the job done? Sure. But it’s what I like to call, an info-dump. (Full disclosure, I think good friend and fellow writer Steve McClain is the one who introduced me to this term). Info-dumps are, by their very nature, effective and boring. My character had a pretty terrifying past, and rather than showing it, I decided to tell it.
To remedy this, I decided to demonstrate the disturbing ritual that she’d been a part of. The other character witnesses it, and then comes to understand her in a way he hadn’t before (as does the reader). Granted, the new scene is still rough, but it reads much better than it’s predecessor. Also, it’s much more exciting to read.
Here are a few tell-tale signs of the info-dump:
1. Only a few characters present. They converse for long periods of time with no forward action or momentum. Information is revealed in large chunks, little mystery remains.
2. Only one character present. Long passages of interior monologue without forward momentum or action. Information comes in the voice of a hand-wringing villain or a much put-upon hero.
See the commonality? No forward momentum or action. Not every scene has to have it, but when you’re trying to show something, it’s a lot better with action.
Until next week, good writing.