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Arrrrgh! Info Dumps! And Complaints About Them!

April 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Every novel has them; the often dreaded info dump. Long paragraphs of backstory crammed in either as uncomfortable, droning dialogue between characters or pages of omnipotent exposition on past events are supposedly frowned upon from the opinions I have been gathering. Yet, surprising, every novel that I have read in recent memory has contained them. For something so universally reviled, it sure does get included quite often as a tool an author to pass information on the reader.

I refer to this as the “And then …. Nothing happened” part of the story. For example, I am reading Theft of Swords right now and I swear that, literally, nothing of great importance has happened in quite some time. I just got done with a passage of the book where there was a long discussion about the various gods of the world just to get the reader informed about who they are. Interesting from a backstory component, but a little uncomfortable and seemingly out of place. That followed what amounted to a lot of travel to the location of a secret prison, which itself followed a lot of information on a monetary that was burned down.

Don’t get me wrong. So far the book is good even if I think some of the recent info dumping currently going on could have been broken up. But I hear it all the time from people who think they know so much about how to write that these sorts of methods for conveying backstory sink a story’s chances of being published. Obviously not!

I am told by people, other writers mostly, that I have too much info dumping in drafts they are critiquing. They tell me how such sequences are too long. They tell me how I must take them out or never be published. Then I show then passages from books where there are info dumps three times as long and make he obvious point that those books were published. I ask them how is their opinion valid in the face of evidence to the contrary. To that question I get a lot of convoluted answers, but never any that really answer the question.

People might complain about info dumps in stories, but the facts are that they exist. And they exist often. And the funniest thing is some of my fellow writers who are critiquing my current works are some of the worst offenders because I have been reading their drafts as well. One lady, for example, complained that a three paragraph sequence (3/4 of a page) putting some backstory forth was “too long” just as a “general rule of thumb”. Yet her most recent work has nearly 4,000 words, some fifteen pages, of backstory dumped in one instance!

I am sure that there are horrendous examples of the info dump that are unreadable. I know, even though I cannot think of them off the top of my head, they exist. I think most people that hate the dumping of backstory remember only the worst of the worst and then proclaim all as bad.

I do not fear using the info dump however. In my own writing I try to keep them small and within the flow of the story and not let the reader get drawn too far away from the here and now and what the characters are currently doing. Hopefully I am succeeding so that my own little info dumps don’t get lumped in with the worst of them.

Writers Say Change But Most Readers Say Stand Pat

April 11, 2012 Leave a comment

It is funny. Or maybe it is sad. Several people are reviewing my recent draft of Under the Darkened Moon and it is easy to tell who is a writer and who is a reader based on their comments.

Everyone who is a “writer” has a plethora of suggestions. Not all of them are bad suggestions. But a lot of them I consider petty and nothing more than being along the lines of “I wouldn’t do [insert item here] that way”. Is it wrong I ask? Of course they say it is not but stress how they would change said item if it were their story. Ok, so I am basically chalking such things up as style conflicts between myself and them.

Now flip to the group who are “readers” of fantasy novels. Being my target audience I care more about their opinions. Those petty discussion points of not doing something a “certain way” almost never come up. The reader group has actually caught a few minor contradictions in the plot that I had missed but that the authors group completely missed while they were busy trying to make my writing more like their own. And the reviews have been more positive from those that are readers compared to authors. The group of readers of fiction are more apt to suggest not changing anything except the obvious errors.

Moving forward the story’s edits are coming along well. I hate to cut out the “authors” from the editing process but I am seriously finding that their comments are far less helpful than those who consume such stories for pleasure.

Story Prompts Weekend

April 8, 2012 Leave a comment

I have been taking a break from writing this weekend but have been working on my list of story prompts.  I like to sit down every now and again and jot down ideas with the ones being most interesting to me making it to my official list of story prompts for future work.  The current list stands at 40, which I think is quite good considering that I just started it last June.  It will keep growing, some of the prompts will get combined into a single story, others might get their own treatments in time.  One thing I have learned as a writer is that you have to keep the funnel filled and never, ever let an idea go poof because you did not write it down.

Trying To Be A Little Less Epic

April 6, 2012 Leave a comment

If anyone asks me about my current main project, Under the Darkened Moon, I do not lie about it.  I freely admit that I plan it to be the first of a series of stories set in the world of Arrnna.  Even if I write something else in the meantime.  However, even though the story is part of an epic fantasy saga I have purposefully tried to write the novel in a less than epic fashion.  Hey, you have to get published first is the way I see it.  Then you have to prove your story can sell second.  Trying to sell an epic five, six or seven book series to a publisher without a track record is certainly a daunting task.  Selling one book with the hook that there can be much more if the publisher desires is certainly more doable.  So it is important for me to make sure that the story in Under the Darkened Moon wraps up completely by the end of it.  I would hate to sell the first book of a saga and never be able to complete it because I never get to sell the second.

Some people that have been reviewing the drafts, giving it good reviews too, have pointed out that the book seems like it could be easily stretched into a two book set.  Originally, to tell the truth, it was headed that way.  The entire story was at first around 300,000 words (two books of approximately 150,000 words each).  But really about half of that story was only of interest to me as the author.  It really was not things the reader needed to know and it seemed to drag in parts.  So I edited the book down to about 140,000 as of right now.  Hey, I look at it like this; if I sell this book and get a chance to sell another, I can always go back and tell the story in those “lost” 150,000 words as a collection of short stories to supplement the novel.

I am about halfway through my current edit.  I hope to have it done sometime around June.  Whether or not it will get another polish or not is still up in the air.

Interesting Conversation With A Friend

April 3, 2012 Leave a comment

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine today who has been repeatedly published in the genre of science fiction.  I am withholding his name for reasons that I think will be obvious by the end of this post.

For the past few years my friend has been trying to break out of sci-fi and into another genre.  He has however been repeatedly hassled by the publisher of his past sci-fi books to present them with a new manuscript.  It is important to note that he has no contractual obligation with his current publisher, they just want him to write another book because they see him as an established author who can sell books.  However, as he put it to me, he just does not feel that he has anything worth writing about in sci-fi anymore.  But he does have ideas for other genres.  Unfortunately his current publisher does not publish said genres.

He has been polite in refusing them but confided in me that he was becoming very annoyed with the constant badgering.  Apparently this publisher is very light in the funnel.  The other day when they called he mentioned my name and gave me a reference because they also publish fantasy and let slip that they are interested in such as well. They told him that they were not interested in developing new talent and, such was his take, that they wanted to stick with past sucessess.  Yes, he said, even if what those past successes gave them a subpar story to work with.  They said they wanted “anything” from him and commenting that “quality does not matter.” Read more…