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Unneeded Information

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Fri Aug 10, 2007 9:04 pm
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Emerson says...


When we’re writing, a lot of us sometimes hit things that in the writing world are called Info Dumps. Okay, now the pros are going to hate me because we all know what info dumps are, but they’re pretty sneaky!

I asked some people in the chat what an info dump was described as. RiedaWriter23 said, “A large load of unnecessary information. I don\'t know.” I asked Snoink, but she wasn’t replying at the time, so we’ll ignore her for now.

(At a later date, I was finally able to get an answer out of Snoink. Her answer, though rated for language. Her regular, censored reply. \"Info dumps are what happens when a writer forgets how useful the delete key is.\" And yes, she is that fowl mouthed. Chickens and all. [That error was originally from my own bad spelling, now turned joke.])

Rieda, it just so happens, was very right! That’s exactly what they are! Now, this article is by no means me telling you how to get rid of these info dumps; why on earth would I tell you how to do that?

This is how to get rid of unneeded information. NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH info dumps, because these things can happen in minor ways.


Let’s travel back to my handy dandy quote, that I can’t place anywhere. “Don’t Show us a gun, if someone isn’t going to get shot,” and the reverse is also true, “If someone is going to get shot, show us a gun.”

But what am I talking about?


I bet I’m getting annoying with these titles, huh? Very Happy

When writing, people have the tendency to tell us things we don’t need to know. The only example I can think of now is from a story of Aeroman’s. He wrote this story about a young boy, and his brother and—it doesn’t matter. The point is, in the story the boy had a bike. Aero kept talking about how it was new and shiny and he had gotten it for his birthday. Then he mentioned it again, a paragraph later. I was waiting for something to happen to that bike, I really was. Was it going to get smashed and die? (The bike, that is.) Well I thought: It better because he’s been talking about how nice and new it is! So I asked him about it; I forget what he said.

The thing is, it wasn’t that he mentioned that it was new, or that it was shiny, that’s fine and dandy. He had mentioned that he had gotten it for his birthday. “Darry quickly grabbed the new bike he’d received for his birthday as soon as he reached the garage and steered it towards the open street.” (Brothers By Aeroman)

This was the thing that got me. Because nothing happened to the bike, and it didn’t matter that it was his birthday. If something doesn’t matter, never comes into play, is inconsequential, don’t tell us. The reader doesn’t need to know, if it doesn’t matter.

But, I feel I’m teetering a bit here. Where do you draw the line between details to give the story description, and unneeded mini-dumps? I think this is where opinion comes in. You are the writer, what you do is up to you. Critiquers, we just help. In the end, it’s your story and you can do what ever you feel like doing; even if that is leaving in info dumps. But I’m pretty sure there is line somewhere. I’ll look at The Brothers once more.

He told us the bike was “new”. Okay, good. That way, we know it’s not old. Hah, kidding. He could have gone farther in with this (“Its paint shined like it was fresh,” etc.) but he didn’t. Oh well. Then he hit “received for his birthday party”. Not really bad but… it was the fact that it had nothing to do with the actual story. In fact, the story has nothing to do with the birthday whatsoever and never mentions the birthday at any other time. If he would have, say, a comment about the birthday, his birthday being the day before, and emotional impact from the birthday anything to pull significance to the birthday, it would suddenly mean more than that unneeded detail. That’s when it good.


Now! For the other thing. “If someone is getting shot, show us a gun.”

The young girls ran through the park, lollygagging. Julie had blonde hair, Mary had red hair, but they both had freckles. They were going to play hopscotch, and everything! They were best friends. Until Mary had a mental break down and killed Julie with the jigsaw puzzle they had been working on for five years.

Ignoring the bad writing in general, because you know I did just write that in five seconds, you can already see what I’m talking about. We had no mention of Mary being unstable, prone to mental break downs and killing people; we weren’t even told there was a jigsaw puzzle.

This is exactly what the quote addresses. Information that should have been hinted to before hand, mentioned, or otherwise given to the reader, wasn’t given and so it ruined the story.

I have a real life example in ’06 NaNoWriMo project. I needed to get someone pushed into a fire place. So I had to figure out how to mention that the rooms had fireplaces, that way one wouldn’t just magically appear. I also had to mention that this particular fire place, unlike it normally would be, was lit.

It being NaNoWriMo, it got mentioned right before the big push scene…

Anyway, you can tell exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t give your reader an idea of what is going to be used in coming scenes, you’ll surprise them. If you don’t drop hints that your character is/that your plot might/ that your anything might *blank* you’ll surprise them.

Don’t get me wrong, we love twist endings and surprises! But even then, you can’t shoot someone without a gun!


This is the good part. You have to slowly bring them in. With items (jigsaw puzzle), you have to mention them previously. If you mention it early on, it’s best that it be something that could not be forgotten easily or will be mentioned multiple times. Sometimes, it also is nice to tell the reader near the scene (If done right Wink In NaNo, I failed.) Because then they might start expecting something, this is foreshadowing. In fact, seeing that word; this is all foreshadowing.

With character action (Mary having a break down and killing Julie) we need to be hinted, we need to see signs that this could really happen, otherwise we won’t believe it. Maybe the mention that Mary was in a psych-ward once, or have a scene with her having a break down, one that isn’t as big as the one to come, but just enough so we can expect it. This could be as little as “Mary sometimes had breakdowns” or whole scenes with her being in therapy (giving us a glimpse of why she has break downs). There are so many things you could do when it comes to this, that I don’t even have time (or the ability really; I’m finishing this absence of sleep) or space to list them all.

So, have fun fixing your lack of or build up of info!
“It's necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live.”
― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

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Fri Aug 10, 2007 9:18 pm
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Sam says...

*high fives*

Good article, Clau- it's really, really tough to figure out where to put things in and when they're just too much.

[Shamelessly adding to the last paragraph,] you can think of it as designing a treasure hunt. If you give your best clue as the first, what's the point of going through with the rest if you could figure it out with just one clue? Slowly progress, adding more information. The tension created by unknowns is what's going to keep readers, er...reading.
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Fri Aug 10, 2007 10:30 pm
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Twit says...

LOVE forshadowing. It's like in the first Season of Doctor Who. Throughout the entire first season, they were dropping hints about "Bad Wolf"; little mentions that you forgot, but remembered at the season finale. THAT was what made it so great. When Rose says, "I am the Bad Wolf. I create myself. I take the words; I scatter them, through time and space... etc." that's the moment when you smack your forehead and shout, "Of course! Eureka!"

Ooop, sorry, rambling again. But very helpful article, Clau. "Don't show us a gun if someone isn't going to get shot..." very deep.
"TV makes sense. It has logic, structure, rules, and likeable leading men. In life, we have this."


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Wed Feb 10, 2010 8:40 pm
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LookUpThere says...

To add on to that:

Percy once described Quintus, the swordsfighter, as a chess player: He created a string of moves with no visible pattern. Then he delivered the final blow, and you the pattern was revealed.

Or something like that.

"Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!"
— Dom Pérignon