The InfoDump Scene, Part 4.


Happy New Year Everyone! I am so glad to see 2012 go I can hardly stand it. Whew. 🙂

 This is likely to be the last InfoDump segment, unless I get inspired. We’ll see. This entire series (1,2,3, and now 4) has been an example of how to take info and use to further the scene, the character development, and the plot with the info, rather than let it slow the plot down.

Some of these *info things* we always need in a novel, and some would be at the direction of an editor, requested in the textual rewrite letter. This is what happened to me when the acquisitions editor wanted world-building before the first action scene. I like action scenes, so I wrote an *almost action scene* into the 28 page new first chapter, using it to further the info-world-building.

Here is that partial list of the editor’s requirements (the updated one) 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?

We have 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. We ended last time with examples of how to take an opening scene to both world-build and give backstory, without slowing down the pace of the novel. Well, not slowing it down too much.  To follow, is an *almost* action scene that does some of the same things. There is no fighting, no violence, just my character doing what she does. Yet, it accomplishes a lot.

Again, I’ll mark  the sections that deal with the world building questions and highlight the way I avoided the Dreaded InfoDump Scene. By smearing that info into the story itself. As before, where I answered questions, I’ll make a note: (1) or (3) or whatever, to refer to the specific questions. There could be more questions answered in each area. Feel free to note others that I didn’t.

To read the first chapter in full, go here:


CHAPTER 1, Part 3-ish

… 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)

I tripped over a boot.  It was sticking from the snow, toe rounded, boot laces crusted with blood and ice.  Human blood had been spilled here, a lot of it.  The ground was saturated with blood.  The earth reeked of fear and pain and horror, and to my mage-sight, it glowed with the blackened energy of death.  I caught a whiff of Darkness.  (7,9)

Adrenaline coursed through my veins, and I stepped into the cat stance, blade and walking-stick held low as I circled the site.  Bones poked up from the ice, and I identified a femur, the fragile bones of a hand, tendons still holding fingers together.  A jawbone thrust toward the sky.  (7,9)

Placing my feet carefully, I eased in.  Teeth marks, long and deep, scored an arm bone.  Predator teeth, unlike any beast known to nature.  Supernat teeth.  The teeth of Darkness.(9)

Devil-spawn travel in packs, drink blood, and eat human flesh.  While it’s still alive.  A really bad way to go. (9)  And spawn would know what I was in an instant if they were downwind of me.  As a mage, I’d be worth more to a spawn than a fresh meal.  I’d be prime breeding material for their masters.  (7,9)

I’d rather be eaten. 

A skull stared at me from an outcropping of rock.  A tree close by had been raked with talons, or with desperate human fingers trying to get away, trying to climb.  As my sight adjusted to the falling light, a rock shelf protruding from the earth took on a glow displaying pick marks.  A strip mine.  Now that I knew what to look for, I saw a pick, the blackened metal pitted by ichor, a lantern, bags of supplies hanging from trees, other gear stacked near the rock with their ore.  One tent pole still stood.  On it was what I assumed to be a hat, until my eyes adjusted and it resolved into a second skull.  Old death.  Weeks, perhaps months, old.  (1)

A faint stench of sulfur reached me.  Dropping the sight, I mind-skimmed (7) until I found the source.  A tiny hole in the earth near the rock they had been working. (9)  I understood what had happened.  The miners had been working a claim on the surface—because no one in their right mind went underground, not anymore—and they had accidentally broken through to a cavern or an old, abandoned underground mine. (1, 9)  Darkness had scented them.  Supper….

I moved to the hole in the earth.  It was leaking only a hint of sulfur and brimstone, and the soil around was smooth, trackless.  Spawn hadn’t used this entrance in a long time.  I glanced up at the sky.  Still bright enough that the nocturnal devil-spawn were sleeping.  If I could cover the entrance, they wouldn’t smell us.  Probably.  Maybe. (9)

Sheathing the blade, I went to the cases the miners had piled against the rocks, and pulled a likely one off the top.  It hit the ground with a whump, but was light enough for me to drag it over the snow, leaving a trail through the carnage.  The bag fit over the entrance, and the faint stench of Darkness was instantly choked off.  My life had been too peaceful. I’d gotten lazy. I should have smelled it the moment I entered the woods.  Now it was gone.  (7)

Satisfied I had done all I could, I tramped to my pile of deadwood and back to camp, glad of the nearness of so many humans, horses, and dogs that trotted about.  I dumped the wood beside the fire pit at the center of the small clearing.  Hoop Marks and his second-in-command, Hoop Jr., tossed in broken limbs and lit the fire with a miniscule can of kerosene and a pack of matches.  Flames roared and danced, sending shadows capering into the surrounding forest. (1) The presence of fire sent a welcome feeling of safety through the group, though only earthly predators would fear the flame.  No supernat of Darkness would care about a little fire if they were hungry.  Fire made them feel right at home. (9)

I caught Hoop’s eye and gestured to the edge of the woods.  The taciturn man followed when I walked away, and listened with growing concern to my tale of the miners.  I thought he might curse when I told him of the teeth marks on the bones, but he stopped himself in time.  Cursing was a sure way of inviting Darkness to you, attracting seraphic punishment, or drawing the ire of the church.  (1, 8, 9) Death-by-dinner, seraphic vengeance, or priestly branding—none were worth the release that language could bring. (1,8)  Instead, he ground out, “I’ll radio it in.  (1) You don’t tell nobody, you hear?  I got something that’ll keep us safe.”  And without asking me why I had wandered so far from camp, alone, he walked away. 

Smoke and supper cooking wafted through camp as I rolled out my sleeping bag and pumped up the air mattress. (1)  Even with the smell of old death still in my nostrils, my mouth watered.  I wanted nothing more than to curl up, eat and sleep, but I needed to move through the horses and mules first.  Trying to be inconspicuous, touching each one as surreptitiously as possible, I let the walking-stick’s amulet-handle brush each animal with calm.  (7)

It was a risk, if anyone recognized a mage-conjure, but there was no way I was letting the stock bolt and stampede away if startled in the night.  I had no desire to walk miles through several feet of hard-packed snow to reach the nearest train tracks, then wait days in the cold, without a bath or adequate supplies, for a train that might get stranded in a blizzard and not come until snowmelt in spring.  No way.  Living in perpetual winter was bad enough, and though the ubiquitous they said it was only a mini-ice-age, it was still pretty dang cold. (1)

So I walked along the picket line and murmured soothing words, touching the stock one by one.  (7) I loved horses.  I hated that they were the only dependable method of transport through the mountains ten months out of the year, but I loved the beasts themselves. (1)  They didn’t care that I was an unlicensed neomage hiding among the humans. (7)  With them I could be myself, if only for a moment or two.  I lay my cheek against the shoulder of a particularly worried mare.  She exhaled as serenity seeped into her, and turned liquid brown eyes to me in appreciation, blowing warm horse breath in my face.  “You’re welcome,” I whispered.

Just before I got to the end of the string, Hoop sang out.  “Charmed circle.  Charmed circle for the night.” (1)

I looked up in surprise, my movements frozen as the night air.  Hoop Jr. was walking bent over, a fifty pound bag of salt in his arms, his steps moving clockwise.  Though human, he was making a conjure circle.  Instinctively, I cast out with a mind-skim, (7) though I knew I was the only mage here.  But now I scented a charmed something.  From a leather case, Hoop Sr. pulled out a branch that glowed softly to my mage-sight.  Hoop’s “something to keep us safe.”  The tag on the tip of the branch proclaimed it a legally purchased charm, unlike my unlicensed amulets. (1,7) It would be empowered by the salt in the ring, offering us protection. I hurried down the line of horses, trusting my movements were hidden by the night, and made it to the circle before it was closed.

Stepping through the opening in the salt, I nodded again as I passed Audric.  The big black man shouldered his packs and carried them toward the firepit.  He didn’t talk much, but he and Thorn’s Gems had done a lot of business since he discovered and claimed a previously untouched city-site for salvage.  (1) Because he had a tendre for one of my business partners, he brought his findings to us first, and stayed with us while in town.  The arrangement worked out well, and when his claim petered out, we all hoped he’d put down roots and stay, maybe buy in as the fourth partner.

“All’s coming in, get in,” Hoop Marks sang out.  “All’s staying out’ll be shot if trouble hits and you try to cross the salt ring.”  There was a cold finality to his tone.  “Devil-spawn been spotted round here.  I take no chances with my life or yours less you choose to act stupid and get yourself shot.” (1,7,9)


Okay. The scene has no conflict and no actual action, no fighting of the spawn. But it sets up one of the Main Character’s most common enemies, and shows a lot about the society they live in. They have tech, and magic, and humans, and business, and commerce, and lots of danger.

It breaks the info of world-building with the first hint of danger and conflict. It’s like lasagna. When you make lasagna, you don’t toss the ball of raw meat into one corner of the pan, the raw noodles into the middle, a whole onion into another corner, garlic into the third corner and dump the tomatoes and herbs into the fourth corner and hope it’ll turn out okay. You slice and dice and prepare and build it, sometimes doing a little a day for several days (especially if you make your own sauce and let it sit in the fridge for a day).It is the same way with writing. Sometimes, long after the first scenes are written, we go back, adding in the info like flavorings and spices. When you spot an info dump in your own writing, see if you can spread it out. Spend the time to make it work.



7 comments to The InfoDump Scene, Part 4.

  • mudepoz

    *Facepalm* IS THAT WHY I CAN’T COOK? *Scuttles out*

  • Vyton

    I liked the way you layered the information in. The lasagna analogy works well. Even though, as you say, there is no real action, it certainly sets up for action to come, so there is suspense. I would definitely keep reading.

  • LOL Mud, it may be.

    Vyton, thanks. The info dumpage is pretty heavy handed throughout the first 28 pages, but adding in a scene that works with the tension of the rest of the book helped to negate the impact.

  • Razziecat

    “Spread it out.” I’m going to make note of that! 🙂 This works very, very well. Even though there is no major conflict in this scene, there’s plenty of tension. Finding a scene of death, knowing the source of danger (and that it might still be nearby), what that danger might do to the people (eat them, kill them, or make breeding stock of them-ick!), oncoming night with its own dangers, the possibility of being seen conjuring. I think this is what Carol Berg refers to as “spooky music”…hints and warnings, secrets, bits and pieces of danger, that draw you in and make you aware that scary things are coming. You don’t even realize how much you’re learning about the world and the characters because it’s all woven together so well. Excellent!

  • Thanks, Razzie. This (28 pages) was a *built* chapter — everything layered in like lasagne. It took something like two weeks to write. And it was work. But, in hindsight, it was fun.

  • Thanks for this, Faith. I’m finished my revisions (yay, finally) with one exception: the epilogue chapter. Which is way too infodumpy. Not the same as the beginning, yet also just as important, I think. I plan to tackle the rewrite today. So this post is perfect timing! 🙂

  • Laura, yeah, I have trouble making Epis tie up all the lose ends too. It’s the easy place for that, but it’s also cheating the reader of an experience — show don’t tell. It’s harder to make it happen in the body of the book and the end of the story, but that is where this belongs.