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Old 02-10-2013, 07:33 AM   #1
Ravenheart
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Question Back story Info Dump Question

I was reading and editing through my MS today and realized that the entire chapter is back story. It starts by going to the year 1608 and then midway through you realize it's a dream. The person doing the waking is the character that needs to have quite a few things explained to him, as a newly made vampire, that is. This needs to happen fairly quickly... before he takes the blood oath. So I need to get a lot of information out in this chapter so new vampire knows laws of the society and some basic history but not all of it. I do this by having him have a conversation with his maker. This is the only chapter that's like this. Is it too much? How much is too much? And does anyone have any other ideas how to go about this. I don't want to use a dream sequence because I've done that already.
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Old 02-10-2013, 07:45 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Ravenheart View Post
I was reading and editing through my MS today and realized that the entire chapter is back story. It starts by going to the year 1608 and then midway through you realize it's a dream. The person doing the waking is the character that needs to have quite a few things explained to him, as a newly made vampire, that is. This needs to happen fairly quickly... before he takes the blood oath. So I need to get a lot of information out in this chapter so new vampire knows laws of the society and some basic history but not all of it. I do this by having him have a conversation with his maker. This is the only chapter that's like this. Is it too much? How much is too much? And does anyone have any other ideas how to go about this. I don't want to use a dream sequence because I've done that already.
Without seeing the chapter, I can't say for sure, but I can say that infodumps and dream sequences are usually not a good idea.

Again, I can't say for sure, but there are two ways you might be able to fix it: 1) Just skip it. Let your MC learn the rules and history as he goes along. or 2) Start the entire story on the next chapter.
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Old 02-10-2013, 08:23 AM   #3
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My first instinct says you should find a different way of doing it. At what point in the story does this occur? Readers might forgive some backstory if they're already hooked by the story. Of course, it would be best if you found a better way of conveying the information.
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Old 02-10-2013, 08:28 AM   #4
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That sounds more like a flashback, but backstory can be annoying and info-dumps are a best avoided.

The problem with flashbacks are that you're pulling the reader away from the current story to tell a past one.
Is it needed? Might as well start the story in the past and work into the future, rather than jumping back. Or you can skip it. Let the reader question what happened and keep an air of mystery (but this is when its not fully needed).

Backstory is fine, if its short, if its needed to allow the reader to understand the situation. Otherwise, why say it?

Info-dumps can be a hastle. But to explain something during a situation to have the reader better understand it, is common practice.
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Old 02-10-2013, 08:29 AM   #5
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I'm confused. Are you using the dream to tell some backstory? Or is this like a prophecy/flashback? I wouldn't suggest doing that, because that's kind of info-dumping in a way.

Why not just start the story with the vampire turning, and then the maker would only explain to him in bits and pieces throughout the story--or the vampire learns from first-hand experience throughout the story (with only bits explained to him by the maker from time to time)?

You don't need to dump everything at once, though.

Just have the maker say a few basic things. Then, have the newly-made vampire observe and experiment (and learn bits from other characters) as he makes his way into vampire society, etc.
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Old 02-10-2013, 08:44 AM   #6
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It's impossible to say for sure without reading the chapter in question, of course, and seeing it in in context of your entire novel.

Is this the very first chapter of the story? Nothing is set in stone, but I find myself more likely to be hooked in by an opening chapter if it shows something happening (doesn't have to be combat, but someone doing something or finding something often works), introduces an interesting, relatable character, and introduces a little mystery. I don't mean crazy, incomprehensible stuff that makes the reader go "WTF?" and throw the book across the room. But subtle things that make him or her wonder what's going to happen next and why. Trying to get everything out about the world, premise and character background in chapter 1 can lose the story in a torrent of backstory and lose the reader in a torrent of drool (the kind that comes from falling asleep while reading).

Perhaps you can feed this stuff to the readers in smaller dribbles as the story unfolds? It's even possible to have a dream or flashback work well a bit later in the story--after the reader is invested in your character and intrigued by his mysterious past. In general, I'd suggest keeping such fairly short. Again, intriguing little dribbles of backstory can be very effective.
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Old 02-10-2013, 09:17 AM   #7
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Like any exposition issue, I think it's more about how it's told than the size of the chunk. If there's enough action and it fits in well where it's placed in the story, I'm alright with it. That said, it's pretty difficult to pull off; I would say it's a worst case scenario, especially considering that you said it's all dialogue.
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Old 02-10-2013, 09:19 AM   #8
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Obviously I can't see how it works without reading it, but the very term "info dump" makes me hesitate. Do you have to give all the information right away? If the story has to start with the main character knowing all this new information, you can just write after the fact and give the details as they come up. Make reference to the fact he's learned all this information (say his head's swimming from it or something like that) but don't explain it in particular.
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Old 02-10-2013, 09:33 AM   #9
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Putting it in SYW would help...but the reader probably also doesnt need every vampire law in one sitting either.....it is a common beginner issue to feel like you need to spoon feed your reader. Agyar and Interview with the vampire both laid out their mythos in bits instead of a chapter of dump fwiw...might be worth reading.
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Old 02-10-2013, 09:45 AM   #10
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The novel I'm currently working on started out with the first two chapters as flashbacks. I felt like I needed them to establish the protagonist, but recently, I realized that since the story actually starts with chapter 3, the first two chapters had to go. And any "necessary" details had to come in gradually through the rest of the book.

I think in your case, I don't think taking the oath should mean the character needs a lot explained up front. Maybe he just takes the oath without understanding what he's committing to. Or maybe he skirts the oath.

All I know is I fought myself against cutting those chapters for several edits, and now that they're gone, I couldn't be happier. I encourage you to cut your first chapter as well.
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Old 02-10-2013, 04:33 PM   #11
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I was facing this exact problem yesterday. I had two first chapters with action and then a third chapter which was, exclusively, characters getting a bite to eat and the MC having "the world" he'd recently discovered (fantasy) explained to him.

Even though I loved the dialogue, I cut it completely just last night. And it was extremely hard to do because I really wanted it in there!

The most helpful thing I did was make a bulleted summary of every individual piece of information he was given. Then I looked at the previous two chapters, and the next two chapters, and decide which of those bulleted facts were needed a) to explain events in chapters 1 or 2 or b) to explain things that would happen in chapters 4 or 5. Everything else got cut, to be doled out in smaller pieces rather than all at once.

In addition, I looked at every piece of information and tried to see if it could be explored in action rather than dialogue. For example - your character could be told vampires don't like sunlight, or even that they do like sunlight. But readers can learn the same thing simply by having your character see a vampire react to the sunlight. It establishes the world without being too expository.

Re: the dream, having half of the chapter be a dream that tells the MC how the world works sounds a bit clunky. If it's the first chapter, I'm not sure I would feel pulled in to the story - but it's hard to say without actually reading it and seeing how its done.

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Old 02-10-2013, 05:03 PM   #12
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Actually I don't do the society back story bit all that much except in small tidbits until chapter five. My first four chapters and the prologue are all current story line. As I said chapter five starts with a dream then goes into a conversation between two MCs to explain some things. But I liked a lot of your ideas. After re-reading it I think I may need to cut it down quite a bit. It's been brought to my attention some basic writing errors I've been making through sharing my prologue and first chapter. So helpful... Because in seeing where my mistakes are I can see that I've made the same mistakes throughout. So before I write one more chapter I'm going through what I've already written to try and clean it up. I might just share chapter five in SYW but not until I've edited it.

Off to do major revisions. Thanks ya'll!
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Old 02-10-2013, 08:09 PM   #13
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Raven,

By your original posting, I thought you were talking about your first chapter. However, I see by your latest post that your dream starts in chapter five.

It's all in the execution.

You might want to post in Share Your Work, as it's difficult to tell without reading the chapter in question.
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Old 02-10-2013, 08:37 PM   #14
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Your character needs to be told this stuff but does the reader? Perhaps all the reader needs to know is that the conversation took place, rather than actually being shown the whole thing.
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Old 02-12-2013, 03:40 PM   #15
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You could play with the fact that it is a conversation, to make it more interesting. Perhaps your MC could not be listening when some crucial fact is mentioned, or mishear something important.
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Old 02-16-2013, 05:29 AM   #16
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As a writer, I always find it extremely tempting to do info dumps because I know there's so much to tell. I get impatient and can't wait to get it all out

However, as a reader, I always prefer to see the info parsed throughout the story (slow reveals) or maybe in big reveals later on. The most important thing in your first chapter(s) that you can do is get the reader engaged and interested. If there's going to be an info dump early on, it needs to be engaging enough for a reader new to the story to want to keep reading.

Good luck- I know this is an area I've always debated with myself.
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Old 02-16-2013, 05:31 AM   #17
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Old 02-16-2013, 06:10 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ravenheart View Post
I was reading and editing through my MS today and realized that the entire chapter is back story. It starts by going to the year 1608 and then midway through you realize it's a dream. .
No reader wants to start a book, become invested in a character and a situation, and then discover it was all dream.

The conversation with his maker sounds like it could be interesting, but I would suggest either 1) placing it later in the story, where it can shed light on everything that's come before, or 2) breaking it up into a series of very small flashbacks, to be interspersed with the real-time story and showing only a part of the conversation at any given time. I've seen this done before, where the reader is fed the backstory in pieces until eventually it comes together and the whole picture is revealed. It can be quite effective.
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Old 02-16-2013, 08:54 PM   #19
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Old 02-16-2013, 09:23 PM   #20
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I'd ditch the chapter. Here's why:

There are two kinds of information that are usually conveyed in infodump chapters.
One, stuff necessary for the plot as it progresses, later. You can weave that in when needed, maybe even just by referring to the talk your MC had between ch. 4 and now-5. But you'll only be in the right mindset for weaving it in if you know the info is missing from before. And by doing it then you'll keep it brief because you don't want to disrupt the plot's flow.
Two, stuff that you feel is important to understand the world and society but that won't really come up in the plot. This is the main reason for skipping the chapter. If it's important, it'll come up; if it's just a neat batch of richness that you're fond of, but won't ever become relevant to the plot, keep it in mind while writing, write from that mind, but don't spell it out. It's called backstory because you're supposed to keep it in the back of your mind. Your readers will appreciate the richness behind your plot only if it stays there. In the back.

There's also the added bonus of being able to change stuff in the sequel if you didn't fixate it in the first book.
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Old 02-16-2013, 09:45 PM   #21
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You can get away with all the exposition you want, if you make your readers need it as urgently as your character needs it (and exposition should be always dealt with on a need-to-know basis; if he doesn't need the info to survive, don't provide it).

(eg. should Howland Reed ever be a POV character in Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, I am sure that no single reader in this world will mind him going into a chapter-long flashback on the tournee of Harrenhal).

This is not your first chapter, so all you need to do to get away with large chunks of exposition is raise the right questions in the preceding chapters in the minds of your readers.

You should give your characters info as they need it, but nobody says that you have to give it to them immediately at the very moment when they would need it for the first time. Withold it for a while, let your MC run into trouble for lacking it and make them (and the readers, who hopefully relate to them) clamor for it by the time you're ready to provide it.
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Old 02-16-2013, 11:34 PM   #22
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You will find that there are two schools of thought around the water cooler:
1. You Must Never EVER do XYZ!!!!

2. It's usually not a good idea, but it all depends on where and how you execute it.

This is true for backstory, adverbs, italics, you name it, you'll find a thread with these two schools represented.

I'm in the later camp. It really depends on where in the story and how your background is woven in. Without seeing it, I'd say keep it short. Just the basics at first, with your new vamp learning more as he/she goes along.

Now if I could only follow my own advice...
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Old 02-17-2013, 02:50 AM   #23
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Why not have him learn it as he goes, possibly the hard way? that would be more interesting to the reader, and would get your character into a whole lot more trouble.
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Old 02-17-2013, 03:27 AM   #24
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I've learned the best way to avoid infodumping is to start the first chapter with a scene, where something is actually happening. Like some other posters said, 1) have the vampire turn the MC in the first chapter, and then 2) have the MC learn about his (powers?) or new life as he goes along.
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Old 02-17-2013, 07:31 AM   #25
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the best way to avoid infodumping is to start the first chapter with a scene, where something is actually happening.
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