Today’s special guest is Jim Ryan, a caffeine-loving podcaster and writer who can be found at his official website Jim – Yes, THAT Jim and via Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. (Yes, MySpace is still around. It’s hard to believe, I know.) Also, please feel free to check out Jim’s two podcasts, The Great Debate and The Everyworld News Podcast.
Now, onto Jim’s thoughts on providing readers with too much information at once. (Yes, the old saying is true. Sometimes less is more.)
I have a confession to make. I’m addicted to world-building.
Whenever I write something that takes place in a fictional world, I like to spell out details about that world to the Nth degree. My material leans in the direction of science fiction and fantasy, so more often than not I find myself creating races and societies and – depending on the setting – sorting out rules for how magic works or how advanced technology works.
Why bother with all that? Because my OCD-riddled brain likes to sort out every last piece of information and put it in its proper place.
The problem is that once I’ve got the details written up, I often feel a compulsion to share them with my readers. From what I understand this can be a malady that strikes many writers. It’s only natural, of course. After working for hours on the complete history of every major spacefaring race in a given galaxy, the desire to share the pride I have in such a massive creation is a perfectly normal one.
Normal, but sadly, not helpful.
I may feel as though providing pages and pages of information on the mating habits of the rock people of Quar is the right and just thing to do, but deep down I know that producing a story the approximate length of the Great Wall of China might not be the best strategy. Not if I want to retain any of my readers, anyway.
So, how do I avoid including info-dumps in my fiction?
I’ve tried having clueless minor characters standing by to ask, “What’s going on?” so the clever protagonist can tell them. But that only really seems to work for me up to a point, after which it can start getting ridiculous. Sometimes there’s a fine line between having a main character who’s a genius and having one who’s basically a tape recorder.
(For those of you who may be a bit younger, we used to have these things called “tape recorders.” Google them some time if you’d like to get an insight into how the ancient folk of the late 20th century lived.)
What I’ve found works better is to seed the information in appropriate passages a bit at a time – just hinting at the greater depth of background instead of throwing it all out there. I try only to include the bits of information that are relevant to the story. So, for example, instead of getting into the specifics of how the Quarren race reproduces, I can instead have the Quarren ambassador mention that he’s recently carved out a son.
The key here is letting the readers fill in the missing bits with their imagination. I haven’t explained HOW the ambassador had a son, but I’ve 1) communicated what I need to (that the ambassador has a family, which helps explain his motivations) and 2) hopefully made the reader curious about the Quarren race. The readers can’t help but try to picture what I’m talking about, but because the picture is incomplete there’s now a mystery to which they’ll want to learn the answer.
Stringing folks along by revealing only tiny bits of the world you’ve created can be a bit cruel, perhaps, but ultimately they’ll love you for it. Because a world that looks like it’s got a lot of potential is way cooler than one that’s finished.
So consider hoarding all of those excruciating details and letting them out a bit at a time. That way, when they ask for more, you’ll have a ready supply.
If you’d like to guest blog on my site, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
As many of you know by now, Friday is the release date of the From the Dark Side Anthology. And I have to say, I’m VERY excited. This is the first time I’ve had a short story published, so it’s a big deal for me. How lucky am I to be included in a group of such amazingly talented people? (I’ve actually been battling a “I’m not worthy” feeling.)
So, if you were wondering what cool peeps are included in the anthology, here you go:
- Nicole Godin
- Joseph Bowley
- Josh Crummer
If you would like more information on the From the Dark Side Anthology, you can visit Jennifer Hudock’s site or you can read the press release below:
From the Dark Side: A Charity Anthology
In March 2010, a group of creative types got together in search of ways to showcase their work. There were talks of collaboration which evolved into the From the Dark Side Anthology. Because there were so many people involved in the project, an equal distribution of earnings seemed silly, and so those who gave birth to the idea decided to ask contributors to donate their work.
A worthwhile cause creative-types could stand behind was not hard to find. We turned our attention to the Letters and Light Organization, a non-profit charity that promotes youth creativity.
Since most creative people have a special memory of someone who encouraged and supported them, nurtured their gift and inspired them to pursue their dreams, it seemed like an obvious choice to donate all the proceeds earned from this charity endeavor to The Letters and Light Organization.
Details: Will go on sale electronically July 9, 2010 on Amazon and Smashwords for $4.99 per copy.
Readers do NOT need an eReader in order to download and read the anthology. Amazon offers a download of their Kindle software for PCs and Macs, as well as the iPhone and iTouch. Smashwords has a wide variety of downloadable mediums, from direct browser html and PDF to eReader and Kindle, just to name a few.