The InfoDump Scene, Part 3.

Faith HunterFaith Hunter
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The reader needs the info. They need it badly. They need it now. But if we, the writers, put down all the info that the reader needs, it will become an info dump. We *never* use infodumps! Right? Ummm. Well. Never is a long time. This series is an indepth look into alternatives to the dreaded dump. (Stop laughing. This is not a Kaopectate commercial.)

 We started off on this series with a partial list of world-building questions my editor for the first Rogue Mage book, BloodRing, wanted answered in the first 50 pages. Last time we talked about using emotion and the character’s reactions to show the reader that the info is important, and to use the info being dumped to develop the character.  

Here is a partial list of the editor’s requirements (updated with more) from week one of the series:

  1. How does the world work in the physical sense? Transportation, trade, currency, government, military, technology, climate, communications, species relations, (others).
  2. What happens if humans discover the Main Character?
  3. What do seraphs look like? Do they have wings? Fly? (Answered.)
  4. What happens when the seraphs get near mages? Humans?
  5. Why did they kill humans? (Answered.)
  6. What is the history of the world in the last 105 years since the End of the World.
  7. What are the Main Character’s powers? How is the power stored? How does she use it? Are there repercussion to the use? What other gifts does she have? She is a neomage and yet she doesn’t live in an Enclave. WHY???
  8. Social changes? Curses? Activities? Is dancing, alcohol, etc. banned?
  9. What do the evil beings look like and do?

 To answer questions 3 and 5, I wore the scene from last week’s post. To answer the rest, (except for question 6, which was written into the first 50 pages in small bits here and there) I wrote an entirely new first chapter. A slower first chapter, but with enough action in it to, hopefully, satisfy the reader.

 Below are the pertinent parts of the new first chapter that deal with the world building questions and highlight the way I avoided the Dreaded InfoDump Scene! Where I answered questions, I’ll make a note: (1) or (3) or whatever, to refer to the specific questions.

Please NOTE: This cannot be read like a first chapter, as I cut out the non-pertinent parts, following an ellipse (…) to indicate removed text. To read the first (slightly revised) chapter in full, go here: http://www.faithhunter.net/bloodring-excerpt.html

 BLOODRING

CHAPTER 1

I stared into the hills as my mount clomped below me, his massive hooves digging into snow and ice.  (1) Above us a fighter jet streaked across the sky, (1) leaving a trail that glowed bright against the fiery sunset.  I gathered up the reins, tightening my knees against Homer’s sides, pressing my walking-stick (7) against the huge horse.

A sonic boom exploded across the peaks, (1) shaking through snow-laden trees. Ice and snow pitched down in heavy sheets and lumps.  A dog yelped.  The Friesian set his hooves, dropped his head and kicked.  “Stones and Blood,” (8)  I hissed as I rammed into the saddle horn.  The boom echoed like rifle-shot.  Homer’s back arched.  If he bucked, I was a gonner.

 I concentrated on the bloodstone handle of my walking-stick (7) and pulled the horse to me, reins firm as I whispered soothing, seeming nonsense words no one would interpret as a chant. (7) 

 The bloodstone pulsed as it projected a sense of calm into him, a use of stored power that didn’t affect my own drained resources. (7)  The sonic boom came back from the nearby mountains, a ricochet of manmade thunder. (1)

 The mule in front of us hee-hawed and kicked out, …

 Hoop Marks and his assistant guides swung down from their own mounts and steadied the more fractious stock.  All along the short train, (1) the startled horses and mules calmed as riders worked to control them. Homer looked on, ears twitching. 

 Behind me, a big Clydsdale calmed, shuddering with a ripple of muscle and thick winter coat, his rider following the wave of motion with practiced ease.  Audric was a salvage-miner, (1) and he knew his horses.  I nodded to my old friend, and he tipped his hat to me before repositioning his stock on Clyde’s back…. 

 Sonic booms were rare in the Appalachians these days, and I wondered what had caused the military over-flight(1).  I slid the walking-stick into its leather loop.  It was useful for balance while taking a stroll in snow, but its real purpose was as a weapon.  Its concealed blade was deadly, as was its talisman hilt, hiding in plain sight. (7) However, the bloodstone handle/hilt was now almost drained of power, and when we stopped for the night, I’d have to find a safe, secluded place to draw power for it and for the amulets I carried or my neomage attributes would begin to display themselves.  (7)

 I’m a neomage, a witchy-woman.  Though contrary rumors persist, claiming mages still roam the world free, I’m the only one of my kind not a prisoner, the only one who is unregulated, unlicensed, in the entire world of humans.  The only one uncontrolled. (7)

 All the others of my race are restricted to Enclaves, protected in enforced captivity.  Enclaves are gilded cages, prisons of privilege and power, but cages nonetheless.  Neomages are allowed out only with seraph permission, and then we have to wear a sigel of office and bracelets with satellite GPS locator chips in them.  We’re followed by the humans, watched, and sent back fast when our services are no longer needed or when our visas expire.  As if we’re contagious.  Or dangerous. (7)

 On the trail around us, shadows lengthened and darkened.  Mule handlers looked around, jittery.  I sent out a quick mind-skim.  (7) There were no supernats present, no demons, no mages, no seraphs, no others. (1)  Well, except for me.  But I couldn’t exactly tell them that.    I chuckled under my breath as Homer snorted and slapped me with his tail.  That would be dandy.  Survive for a decade in the human world only to be exposed by something so simple as a sonic boom and a case of trail-exhaustion.  I’d be tortured, slowly, over a period of days, tarred and feathered, chopped into pieces, and dumped in the snow to rot.  (2, 7)

 If the seraphim located me first, I’d be sent back to Enclave and I’d still die. (7)  I’m allergic to others of my kind—really allergic—fatally so.  (2, 7) The Enclave death would be a little slower, a little less bloody than the human version.  Humans kill with steel, a public beheading but only after I was disemboweled, eviscerated, and flayed alive. And all that after I entertained the guards for a few days.  As ways to go, the execution of an unlicensed witchy-woman rates up there with the top ten gruesome methods of capital punishment.  With my energies nearly gone, a conjure to calm the horses could give me away. (2, 7)…

 We could have stopped sooner but Hoop had hoped to make the campsite where the trail rejoined the old Blue Ridge Parkway. Now we were forced to camp in a ring of trees instead of the easily fortified site ahead.  If the denizens of Darkness came out to hunt, we’d be sitting ducks. (1, 9)

 …  As we worked, both clients and handlers glanced fearful into the night.  Demon and their spawn often hid in the dark, watching humans like predators watched tasty herd animals.  So far as my weakened senses could detect, there was nothing out there.  But there was a lot I couldn’t say and keep my head. (1, 7, 9)

 “Gather wood!”  I didn’t notice who called the command, but we all moved into the forest, me using my walking-stick for balance.  There was no talking.  The sense of trepidation was palpable, though the night was friendly, the moon rising, no snow or ice in the forecast.  Above, early stars twinkled, cold and bright at this altitude.  I moved away from the others, deep into the tall trees: oak, hickory, fir, cedar.  At a distance, I found a huge boulder rounded up from the snow. 

Checking to see that I was alone, I lay flat on the boulder, my cheek against frozen granite, the walking-stick between my torso and the rock.  And I called up power.  Not a raging roar of mage-might, but a slow, steady trickle.  Without words, without a chant that might give me away, I channeled energy into the bloodstone handle between my breasts, into the amulets hidden beneath my clothes, and pulled a measure into my own flesh, needing the succor.  It took long minutes, and I sighed with relief as my body soaked up strength.  (7)

 …  My night vision is better than most humans, and though I’m small for an adult and the only female on the train, I gathered an armload in record time.  Working far off the beaten path has its rewards. (7)

I  smelled it when the wind changed.  Old blood.  A lot of old blood.  I dropped the firewood, drew the blade from the walking-stick sheath and opened my mage-sight to survey the surrounding territory.  (7) Though I was drained, I opened my mage-sight and surveyed the surrounding territory.  The world of snow and ice glimmered with a sour-lemon glow, as if it was ailing, sickly.  (7)

Mage-sight is more than human sight in that it sees energy as well as matter.  The retinas of human eyes pick up little energy, seeing light only after it’s absorbed or reflected.  But mages see the world of matter with an overlay of energy, picked up by the extra lenses that surround our retinas.  We see power and life, the leftover workings of creation.  When we use the sight, the energies are sometimes real, sometimes representational, experience teaching us to identify and translate the visions, sort of like picking out images from a three-D pattern. (7)

I’m a stone-mage, a worker of rocks and gems, and the left-over energy of creation; hence, only stone looks powerful and healthy to me when using mage-sight.  Rain, ice, sleet, or snow, all of which is water that has passed through air, always looks unhealthy, as does moonlight, sunlight, the movement of the wind, or currents of surface water, anything except stone.  This high in the mountains, snow lay thick and crusted everywhere, weak, pale, a part of nature that leached power from me—except for a dull gray area to the east, beyond the stone where I had recharged my energies.  (7)

Moving with the speed of my race, sword in one hand, walking-stick sheath, a weapon in itself, in the other, I sped towered the site. (7)

Stopping here for now. Okay, we have a little bit of action, and LOTS of info, potential danger, and conflict. It’s slow, but bythe request of the editor. I’ll pick up here next week, to show how to use an action scene to lessen the effects of a world-building info-dumpish-scene.

Faith

www.faithhunter.net

 

 

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18 comments to The InfoDump Scene, Part 3.

  • Wow. I don’t have any comments on the specific non-dumping you’ve done. But I’m in awe of the technique, specifically setting out what’s communicated where. I can think of a couple of tricky sequel scenes where I can apply this to good effect. Thank you!

  • Mindy, when I wrote the scene, I kept the printed-out list of *things I must do* on the desk beside me. I had devised the basic scene (Thorn rides on pack train to train station after stone-and-gem show in Asheville and sees evidence of Darkness) and I would structure one small area, answering or illuminating as many of the answers as I could with each part. Then I’d move on.

    This was way more *building a scene* than writing one. Sometimes the words flow, sometimes its more like carrying and laying brick to write.

  • I’m with Mindy — the number of the passages for information category was incredibly instructive. Great stuff. I also have to say that I remember reading the book fresh, without knowing much about the plot or the background, and I didn’t find it slow at all. It was intriguing, informative, well-written, and it pulled me in right from the start.

  • Thanks, David. As you know, but maybe others do not, I give a piece of advice when I teach writing seimnars. Learn to read analytically. I suggest reading all the way thruogh a chapter, then (on paper) go back and reread with higlighters or colored pencils or even different colored sticky notes. As you read, mark what each passage does/shows. If you liked something the writer did, then concentrate on it, see how the writer constructed that section. Treat it like an exercise and see if there were other ways to to do it. Likewise, if you think the writer took a shortcut or a passage didn’t ring clear and true with you, then rewrite it to see if it can be made better. That is pretty much what I did here, for this post. And yes, I could have done a lot more with it, breaking it down even more.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you very much for another very lovely example. Though I have to admit that I tend to prefer a somewhat slower pace for starting out with a book – gives me a chance to snuggle down into the world – so to me the above passages read as lovely all over.

    Any comments on the thought-processes around coming up with the scene/setting for this new chapter? I did something similar for my WIP a while back, but the result is in a completely different locale than the rest of the book, so while I love what I got, it also makes me nervous.

  • Hep, That *different locale* opening can be a trouble spot for not-yet-published writers. Not knowing your specific work, I can’t say for sure if that would be a problem for you, of course, but I like to say, “If you open a book on a jungle island with a tribe of monkeys, then the jungle island and monkeys need to fit in to the novel somewhere.” One of the top ten success stories can start anywhere and get away with it, perhaps, but it is a lot harder the farther down the midlist ladder one falls. And I am not an A-list author, so I would not try it had an editor directed me to do so.

  • Thanks for the detailed breakdown, Faith. I’ve actually done what you suggested in the reply to David and marked up opening chapters of books I like. It’s really helpful to see you do this for your own writing.

  • SiSi, I started this *training method* back in high school. It can teach us so much!

  • sagablessed

    Thanks for the posts, Faith. I tend to suck at info dumps. TMI would describe my past methods. These posts help quite a bit. :)
    Now, of course, I have to re-write several scenes. Blargh. But I become a better writer for it.

  • Saga, rewriting is the bliss and the despair of the profession.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you for the comment. That’s a lot of good food for thought. It’s a traveling scene, so many of the characters (including a primary POV character) do show up later. And many of the components do tie in later, but not all. At the very least, I’m thinking I’m going to need to shift the focus of the opening to make it as directly relevant as possible. Lots and lots of food for thought…

  • Razziecat

    Ohh, this is very instructive. I tend to forget that other people can’t see what’s inside my head ;). I do enjoy weaving setting and other info together with action, but as you said, it’s more like building than writing: A foundation here, a pillar there, etc. Must think about this….

  • Hep — I like that phrase, “Make it … directly relevant.” I have now stolen it! :)

    Razzie — yes. Even worse, a yard of concrete here, a piece of rebar there… (The hubby was once a contractor.)

  • I really like the idea of layering, Faith. Agreed with Razzie, very instructive. Thank you. :)

    Out of curiosity, do you find yourself doing less layering as you continue to hone your craft? Or is every project its own literary construction project?

  • Vyton

    I’m on board with everyone else. Great insight. Instructive.

  • Laura, it varies from book to book and from scene to scene. My editor tells me where I under-layered much more often than where I infodumped. And the fans tell me when I didn’t give enough info too. LOL It is a delicate balance, and … next week, I’ll remind everyone about lasagna. (rolls eyes)

    Thanks Vyton!

  • Deb S

    Thanks for the detailed example, Faith. Very helpful. I’m onboard with the color-coding, as well. I’ve taken chapters of my own stuff and coded everything (action, exposition, dialogue) by color. This makes it easy to see where there’s an imbalance, where the choices don’t match the scene goal, and where the pacing speeds and slows.

  • Deb, exactly. And when you use sticky notes set like page tabs out to the side, each color for a different element, you can get an instant visual of the story arcs, action, romance, character development, pacing, everything. It is amazing how much easier rewrites become.