Beware of the dreaded infodump.
March 6, 2015
AN EXCERPT FROM MY THIRD NOVEL, A Year Without Killing, appeared in this BLOG and introduced a technical topic. It was unnecessary to go into great detail, just give the reader the basics so they would understand that my main character applied a learned skill out of habit.
Fellow author, “Sarah W,” posted this comment, “You have a real talent for including intriguing facts about Claudia’s thought processes and actions, while avoiding infodump. She’s such a terrific character!” (Thanks again, Sarah.)
When I hear the term, “infodump,” the first name that comes to mind is that of the late author, Tom Clancy. Others who fit into that category include James Michener and Michael Crichton. No doubt readers can rattle off the names of other authors whom some feel provide “more information than I want to know.”
On the other end of the technology spectrum for a writer, simply saying, “The woman shot her gun,” is not sufficient to stand alone. Readers deserve more.
How much more?
In the above example, we can ask:
Who was shooting?
What was the target?
What were the circumstances of the shot?
Does credibility call for details?
Suppose she was rabbit hunting? Anyone who has ever watched Elmer Fudd hunting “wabbits,” knows you use a shotgun, not a rifle. Rabbits move too quickly for a single slug. When hunters go after small, fast-moving game, they need the “shotgun” effect of scattered pellets.
Do we need to know the make and model?
Unlike the situation in the movies where companies pay for product placement, authors don’t often receive compensation for their choice of product. But my editor likes to know. He feels that readers do as well.
It adds credibility. Uninformed readers can learn something and readers who are familiar with the technical aspect of the story will identify with ease. Both appreciate the author’s research.
My rule of thumb: Tell them it’s a Timex Ironman Triathlon, but don’t tell them how the watch works.
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