This spring I've had the great privilege of judging writers contests. I've always enjoyed helping out, but somehow I managed to over extend myself this year and am judging three categories in two different contests. Everyone's gone electronic and I'm fearful I'll delete something I shouldn't, so caution is at red alert at my house.
Amongst all these entries I've discovered a common problem, the issue of information dumping. I have my own ways of avoiding this nasty habit but I did a little research and was happy to discover many of us solve this in a few basic ways.
How do we get pertinent information to the reader without burdening them with too much information at once? In other words, how do we avoid dumping on the reader?
Dialogue! This is a great way to begin a story, ususally accompanied with action of some degree. Be concise, be pragmatic, what does the reader absolutely need to know? If the color of their eyes is not important at this moment, save that for another scene. Think sprinkles on your donut ~ a scattering of information is more relevant than a long list of attributes. Use only the most important points your reader will need in order to move the story forward.
Don't interrupt the flow with too much information!
We have so much to tell the reader, so we share and share and share til the reader's eyes are glazed over and wondering how any of this is relevant to the story. This is mostly due to the creation process of our make-believe world. Most of this is important only to the writer. Much of this is draft work - yes draft work! The creation of the concepts, the plot, the characters are all shoved into the beginning because the writer is establishing his new world. The easiest way to solve this dumping is to remove the whole thing, put it in a notebook titled: NOTES, and refer back to it as needed. Again disperse needed information with succulent finesse. By doing this the writer has perked up the plot, created more tension and conflict and has the reader wondering what will happen next.
Timing: This is tricky business, but if the writer has dispersed enough information beforehand, the reader is ready to absorb more of the background or history. It becomes satisfying to know the reason behind the action of the character. But the writer must be honest with his information and not simply repeat was has already been handed out. A progression must build, developing the conflict, sharing the emotions of the characters so the reader can relate to what is happening within the story unfolding.
Scene building: So there's still much the reader needs to know; rather than going on and on about this important information, create a dramatic scene that would show the reader vs. telling them. Once discovering this technique, writing a scene becomes fun, how does one demonstrate back history? How does one convey gut wrenching fear, longing, or revenge? Only the author of the work has the tools to accomplish this task. Only the author knows the true conflict that must be shared with the reader. So the author creates a moving picture for the reader, a dramatic scene where the characters relate what the reader needs to know. Perhaps through back story? Difficult encounters? An object? A dream or nightmare? The ideas are as numerous as the stars.
I'm sure there other great ways to avoid information dumping. If you have a particular way that works for you, please share with us.
Til next time ~