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View Full Version : Infodump vs. ďHa, betcha didnít know I had a gun in my pocket!Ē



JohnB1988
06-25-2007, 12:12 AM
We probably need a few more threads about infodumps, so here goes:

One of the features of Japanese anime is that the hero always discovers a new/greater power/weapon/skill just when itís the only thing that will save him. OK, thatís their culture. But lately Iíve been seeing this unexpected (didnít have any warning about that) surprise occur in more and more contemporary books--mostly sci-fi and fantasy. I guess itís part of the writerís (editorís) fear of spending the time up-front to reveal all the heroineís resources. Personally I donít think it works well. Iím from the camp that says that sometimes you gotta put in a couple of dull paragraphs before the dramatic scene where the hidden gun saves the day. :rant:

I used to be a chemistry teacher--look class, itís boring, but you need to learn the names of a few elements before we get to the part where we blow up the classroom.

Is this just me? Am I getting more and more out of the mainstream of modern writing? :Shrug:

maestrowork
06-25-2007, 12:24 AM
No, it's not just you. I hate it when the guy pulls out a gun he's been carrying around (only I didn't know) just to save the day at the right moment. I am in the camp of thinking "please leave me some crumbs, some stage- and props- setting." It doesn't have to be overt foreshadowing as in "oh oh, he's going to have to use the gun later." Something subtle will do.

katiemac
06-25-2007, 12:26 AM
I notice more of what you're describing in movies or TV, not always novels. And yeah, I agree, giving us the info ahead of time is better than deus ex machina types.

But it doesn't have to be an infodump to get that information out in the open. Foreshadowing, and efficient, simple explanation is enough.

For example: Raiders of the Lost Ark. We know that Indiana Jones carries a gun, so it's no REAL surprise that he pulls it out and shoots the ninja. It's unexpected (making it comedic), but makes perfect sense.

Sassee
06-25-2007, 12:27 AM
Yes that is quite annoying. Seems like the series books I've been reading lately (not just from one author) have a lot of these "oh, look what i found" surprises in them. I keep thinking there has to be a bottom to this insanely deep well of undiscovered talents... I mean seriously, how many new abilities can the protag possibly discover in each book?

I'd like to see smarter uses of the same ability/power. Maybe in the first couple books they can blow things up with sheer force, but after that they have to start using their brains along with this power to pull off some neat stuff... power does not increase, but usage of power becomes interesting.

maestrowork
06-25-2007, 12:30 AM
For example: Raiders of the Lost Ark. We know that Indiana Jones carries a gun, so it's no REAL surprise that he pulls it out and shoots the ninja. It's unexpected (making it comedic), but makes perfect sense.

I was thinking about Indie, too. In the movie, Spielberg left us with a lot of crumbs. They were not "obvious" at first, but when Indie or Marion used them, it made sense without being predictable.

NiennaC
06-25-2007, 01:19 AM
Characters pulling out random save-the-day suprises is annoying, to me, at least. It gives me the impression that the author doesn't know where the story is going and just sort of shot out stuff onto paper and got him/herself in a jam and went, oh, okay, well the MC could use a gun, and BAM all the sudden the MC's got a gun from nowhere.

Sean D. Schaffer
06-25-2007, 01:40 AM
This is one of the problems I used to have -- and still do, to some extent -- with my own writing. I know the pieces need to be placed before the reader before they can put them together, but sometimes a piece or two will slip through my filters.

However, I can completely understand the lack of enthusiasm about the 'Ha! Betcha didn't know I was carrying a gun, did ya?' line. Without the proper pieces in place already within the story, the reader cannot really put together the puzzle. That we have a puzzle in the first place to put together, is one of the good things about reading and writing. It's a challenge on the part of both the author and the reader to get all the pieces lined up properly, and I personally think the challenges are what makes reading so enjoyable.

If we have a sudden, "Oh, BTW, I didn't mention this until right now in the story, but I have this secret weapon that's going to destroy all my enemies that never appears in the story anywhere until now," I'm pretty much disgusted with the work from that point on. I understand if this secret thing is discussed earlier in a series to the point it becomes old hat to regular readers of the said series, but I don't understand it if this secret is first mentioned when it is first needed desperately by a character.

NiennaC
06-25-2007, 01:52 AM
I think it also shows a bit of laziness on the author's part. During editing when they realized they pulled a 'Ha! Betcha didn't know I was carrying a gun, did ya?' why didn't they go back and insert a one-liner (at least) that just says "so-and-so picked up his gun and shoved it in his belt"? That's really all you need to do.

katiemac
06-25-2007, 02:00 AM
I think it also shows a bit of laziness on the author's part. During editing when they realized they pulled a 'Ha! Betcha didn't know I was carrying a gun, did ya?' why didn't they go back and insert a one-liner (at least) that just says "so-and-so picked up his gun and shoved it in his belt"? That's really all you need to do.

I've done this before. Then the problem became: "Crap, if he had the gun he could have used it X number of times before and ended the story halfway through."

I suspect most people don't go back to fix something when they've discovered those holes. I can't help myself.


I understand if this secret thing is discussed earlier in a series to the point it becomes old hat to regular readers of the said series, but I don't understand it if this secret is first mentioned when it is first needed desperately by a character.

At the risk of turning yet another thread into Harry Potter examples, it's setup like JKR's that has me enjoying the series so much. She sneaks one-line setups not just chapters, but entire books, in advance.

NiennaC
06-25-2007, 02:04 AM
At the risk of turning yet another thread into Harry Potter examples, it's setup like JKR's that has me enjoying the series so much. She sneaks one-line setups not just chapters, but entire books, in advance.

That's why I have such respect for her (well, that and she created such a wonderful series). You can really tell she knows where she's going and that she won't leave loose ends or do things that'll make you think "huh? WHAT?" and then not give you an explanation so you can say, "Oh, okay."


I've done this before. Then the problem became: "Crap, if he had the gun he could have used it X number of times before and ended the story halfway through."

Hehe, I've had that happen to me, too (I laugh because I remember my reaction to realizing it.). I usually just go and overhaul everything, so that it all works. (It's obnoxiously time consuming). But that's the way I do things.

katiemac
06-25-2007, 02:07 AM
Hehe, I've had that happen to me, too. I usually just go and overhaul everything, so that it all works. (It's obnoxiously time consuming). But that's the way I do things.

Lucky for me my head usually works out there's a problem before it's even close to getting on paper.

Talanic
06-25-2007, 03:07 AM
It goes both ways. Not only is the hero(ine)'s setup best done in advance, so is the villain's. If you're planning a multi-book series, please don't follow the trend of "Congratulations, hero. At the end of the last book, you became Superman. Oh, by the way, there's Kryptonite all over the place, we just forgot to mention it until now." I saw one series do basically that.

I'm doing my writing in a way that I hope is right. The hero starts with a power suit and sidearm (but is a pacifist, armed only reluctantly) with a nice list of abilities, catalogued in a hurry as he abandons his doomed craft. The villains are in a set of short stories I have already completed, exploring pertinent backstory.

JohnB1988
06-25-2007, 03:53 AM
I'm doing my writing in a way that I hope is right. The hero starts with a power suit and sidearm (but is a pacifist, armed only reluctantly) with a nice list of abilities, catalogued in a hurry as he abandons his doomed craft. The villains are in a set of short stories I have already completed, exploring pertinent backstory.

Yeah, thatís kinda how Iím setting it up. A list of ďgo with what youíve gotĒ and then use your brain. It made sense to me, but a couple of beta-type readers thought I was info-dumping and it made me wonder. Of course that info has to come early in the book. But if a modern reader canít handle it in the second chapter and only wants action and movie-type surprise, then maybe itís me who has the problem.

katiemac
06-25-2007, 05:55 AM
Yeah, thatís kinda how Iím setting it up. A list of ďgo with what youíve gotĒ and then use your brain. It made sense to me, but a couple of beta-type readers thought I was info-dumping and it made me wonder. Of course that info has to come early in the book. But if a modern reader canít handle it in the second chapter and only wants action and movie-type surprise, then maybe itís me who has the problem.

If you've gotten some feedback, you could play around with spreading out the information some. A large block of information like that could get confusing. Or, trust your instincts and go with it!

Oddsocks
06-25-2007, 06:24 AM
I think it depends.

If it's early enough in the book, I think that this kind of introduction for a concept/ability/etc is as good as any other, so long as it's something the POV character didn't (reasonably) know about either (if it's something to do with the POV character).

If it's a non-POV character, then again I think it's fair enough, so long as it's reasonable for the POV character not to have known. This is also seems ok a little later in the story than if it's the POV character.

But using this technique at/towards the end, to resolve the ultimate problem in the story - that really does seem incredibly weak, and would be really frustrating, because it seems to devalue everything you've read and enjoyed up until that point.

maestrowork
06-25-2007, 06:26 AM
My character had to learn to open locks so I stuck that one scene in the first chapter but it was part of the plot, too... but by the time the character had to use that skill, it made sense.

Talanic
06-25-2007, 08:14 AM
Now that I think about it, I was accused of not foreshadowing enough. A protagonist battles a shapeshifter, using a strange acid spray from his own hand, and on rejoining his companion, lies about whether or not shapeshifters bleed. The conclusion about that character shouldn't be obvious, but if you pick up on those two clues...