One of the things that happens with writers is that you start a story with a lot of excitement. You set up ideas that sound like they are going to really knock the reader for six. You put a wonderful hero there who grabs their imagination, and the first scene totally rocks.
Then what? Reader goes eagerly on to scene two and the whole things falls flat on its face. Nothing happens. Suddenly it’s all about the way the planet works (in sci-fi), or a lot of background stuff on this hero and how come he’s the way he is, or other boring details.
This is called an info dump. The writer gets worried the reader isn’t going to understand the story if he doesn’t explain things. This happens a lot with children, because they all too easily fall into the trap of telling rather than showing. The playscript quiz may help explain this! Let them know that they don’t need to explain. They just need to write the action and keep the action going.
Of course there will be things the reader needs to know, but they don’t need to stop the momentum of the story. They can be mentioned in passing during the action.
Here’s an example. Let’s say we’ve been introduced to Jack in scene one, when he’s investigating a warehouse. He’s attacked from behind, and has to fight his way out, leaving the attacker unconscious on the floor. We’re all ready for his next bit of action, and this is what we get in scene two:
“After his knee got badly shot up, Jack came out of the army and became a private investigator. It had taken two years to start getting decent jobs, but he still wasn’t earning enough to afford an assistant. This particular job had come to him unexpectedly. The blonde woman walked into the office one day, and …”
See what I mean? Tension has dropped, and nothing is happening. It’s all tell and no show. The story has gone dead right there. Here’s how you could do it and give the same information:
“Jack leaned against the warehouse door, catching his breath. He’d call the cops to grab that maniac, only they hated PIs, and him in particular. He winced, feeling his bruised ribs. His bad knee felt botched up too. Right this minute it didn’t feel like such a good idea to have swapped the army for private investigation. For two pins, he’d tell that blonde to stick her job, only he needed the dosh. A noise from inside alerted him. His assailant was coming to.”
See the difference? The action continues, and we get all the information we need. And now the warehouse attacker has once more become a problem Jack has to sort out.
Info dumping is a wet blanket in a story. Don’t start something and next moment leave the reader high and dry because you want to explain things. Forget explanations. You lose your reader if you set something up and then the story goes flat and it all fizzles out. Like Christmas without the pudding and the presents.
And on that note, I hope everyone enjoys the coming festivities and trust you are buying at least a few books as presents!
Coming from professional theatre, Elizabeth Bailey taught drama for many years alongside her writing career. Multi-published, she now writes full time, both her own novels and ghostwriting, as well as critiquing for other writers. Find out more at www.elizabethbailey.co.uk