Info dumps? 7 strategies to use

ccnancyjardineThis post is by Nancy Jardine.

Explaining what the reader needs to know in a novel, without major info dumping, is an acquired skill. At least, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. When you’re the author of a series of novels the techniques needed are subtly different for each book—though exactly why it’s marketed as a series is also a key question to address, because the links throughout a series may be presented in different ways.

New Beltane cover front x 1760

Book 1

In my Celtic Fervour Series of Historical Romantic Adventures, the three published books are about the horrendous toll on members of a Celtic warrior clan when the Ancient Roman Army makes war on their territory in northern Roman Britain (north England). In AD 71, it’s  Lorcan, from the hillfort of Garrigill, who is my main male protagonist in Book 1.

Lorcan’s brother Brennus features in Books 2 & 3, his adventures being spread over a number of years as the Roman war machine continues to infiltrate northwards. In books 2 & 3, the resistance strategies of my battle-hardened Celts change to information gathering, i.e the life of a spy, till AD 84 when full scale battle happens yet again against the Romans. By AD 84 the location is now the far north of Britannia (North east Scotland).

2 & 3

Books 2 & 3

But as I write Book 4, beginning post battle in AD 84, my main female character is the 14 year old daughter of a third brother, Enya being of the next warrior generation. Most of the Garrigill characters of the first three books reappear in Book 4. Though they contribute in a more minor role, their history seems just as relevant, at times, for a brand new reader as that of my new generation of protagonists.

A large hold up in my writing of Book 4 is avoiding the tendency towards major info dumping because my publisher requests that each book should be able to be read by a brand new reader as a stand-alone novel.

So…This post is FULL of questions.

  • How much do information dumps matter in a series where each book is also designed to be a stand-alone story?
  • How does the reader get just the right amount of info for the background to the story to be clear?
  • At what point is the author’s urge to give information going to slow down the action of the story to the point of boredom for a new reader?
  • Can that perfect place be found where the reader has sufficient information for the progress of the action throughout the novel?
  • Is there just enough information to make a reader still ask themselves a question or two but they’re not in the dark about something important?
  • Is there sufficient information to avoid the reader from being confused when subsequent action occurs as a result of something that’s happened in a previous novel in the series?
  • A strategic smattering of necessary detail at key points in the novel works best for the reader but my question, and quandary is, how is this achieved when writing a series?

I’ve a few strategies that I’m using, and here’s 7 of them, but I’m sure you can probably add to the following:

  • Working the information into dialogue is a technique I favour— when it fits naturally into the story progress. Giving the reader necessary information but also having the characters moving the action forward at the same time is a great aim, though I find that it’s not always achievable without a bit of repetitive tweaking and re-editing to get it just perfect. The information given, I feel, has to really matter to the characters to make it be relevant.
  • I strive to make sure that the information is coming from the correct POV and feel that’s an important part of the task. My series is written in third person so I’m constantly checking to ensure that I’ve not jumped out of my character’s head and that an omniscient POV hasn’t sneaked in.
  • I’ve been constantly re-doing the beginning to make sure my story is starting at the right place—with immediate action rather than pages of info dumped narrative.
  • I’ve axed passages that haven’t moved the action of the story forward to the extent that my ‘dump’ file is almost greater than my manuscript!
  • Character Development is important for my new characters and yet my ‘earlier’ characters are also aging and their emotional reactions should reflect this.
  • I’m highly aware of different aspects of tension in the storyline— my new characters being themselves in new situations of terror, and yet moulded by the past horrific circumstances that the whole family found themselves in.
  • I need to ensure that any info dumping tells its own relevant story and adds depth; the cause and effect being relevant to the immediate situation.

What I want at the end of the day is …this

  • 12347222_s

Any tips you can add? Has info dumping been a problem for you? 

There are a number of sites giving similar ideas and go well beyond the ones I’ve mentioned. Here are a couple. (My own BLOG has other ones as well as some images of my main characters, if you’re interested in seeing what I imagine they look like. 😉 )

Meanwhile… enjoy your writing and happy weekend wishes to you. 

Nancy Jardine writes

CFS End Sept 2015historical romantic adventures (Celtic Fervour Series)

 

 

3 mysteriescontemporary mystery thrillers (Take Me Now, Monogamy Twist, Topaz Eyes-finalist for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014)

 

 

The_Taexali_Game_Cover_for_Kindle time-travel historical adventures for Teen/ YA readers (Rubidium Time Travel Series).

http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk   http://nancyjardineauthor.com/   Twitter @nansjar  Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG and http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G (for The Rubidium time Travel Novels.) email: nan_jar@btinternet.com

Amazon Author page for books and to view book trailer videos:   http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere

Most novels are available in print and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes and Noble; NOOK; KOBO; W. H. Smith.com; Waterstones.com; Smashwords; TESCO Blinkboxbooks; and various other ebook stores.

 

 

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20 Responses to Info dumps? 7 strategies to use

  1. Very interesting post Nancy, with a lot of good questions. As a series writer myself I face the same challenges. I try very hard not to mirror the previous book, but as you said, some information needs to be present to connect the books, even though they each need to stand alone. You’ve included some very helpful information – thanks!

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  2. Doris says:

    Nancy, I’ve not tried a series, but have characters who come from the same town. (Most of those stories are in the beginning stages). Your tips seem to make sense and if I ever try a series, well I’ll be back. Thanks for some great information. Doris

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  3. I’m, a fan of Debbie Macomber who has written more than one series. At the beginning of books that are part of a series, she often inserts a letter to readers in which she explains what happened in previous volumes and gives a quick summary of all the characters. You might try that. Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Neva Bodin says:

    A lot of information and great guiding questions for writing a series. I am going to print and keep your info for when I can get back to serious writing. Currently teaching a three week school for nursing assistants and totally overwhelmed there so writing not at all. But loved the blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mike Staton says:

    My three published books are fantasy — a world I created. They’re a trilogy. I do worry a lot during the writing process about how much background from the previous books to include in the later ones, especially that book 3. It came out five years after the second one. So I did insert some background. I admit… it was a delicate process. But I do try to stay away from a page or more of background. Dialogue sometimes works to sneak in something from a previous book, I’ve found.

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      Thanks, Mike. Dialogue is the way, I think, but as you point out it’s a delicate job to balance the scales of new story and needed background.

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  6. Travis says:

    Great questions and strategies for dealing with info dumps, Nancy. I need to remember this when I’m going through summaries of past events or complex relationships.

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      The writing life can be full of lists, Travis- some of them good to bury for a while but there to be resurrected when necessary.

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  7. Wranglers says:

    It’s good timing for me. I’m thinking of writing the second book in two different series. I’ve given it some thought. Actually, the first book I published was a second in the series, but the first one is in an anthology. Cher’ley

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  8. Nancy Jardine says:

    That sounds complicated Cher’ley but I know what you mean. I have a couple of other author friends who published one book, and they then found it made sense to write a prequel.

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  9. wyoauthor1 says:

    I so respect you and the others, Nancy, who write novels and series at that! I have a friend (mutual friend with Neva) who wrote a trilogy — she used a few pages from the previous book to “jump” into the next book, providing that backstory and intro to previous characters. She also wove descriptions and remembrances of the “new” characters about the “old” characters and story. I’m sure it’s not an easy process, but sounds like there are various options to try. Best to you in your series and other writing ventures, Nancy!

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      There are various ways to integrate the old and the new and I’ll be examining them all – I think – till I’m happy. Just call me fiddly! 😉

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  10. I haven’t written a series before but I think that it would be difficult to provide just enough background without the info dump. Other series I read seem to do it seamlessly so I don’t notice the quick summary. (although maybe I skip that part come to think of it). It’s a fine balance but sounds like you know all the good tricks. Something for me to remember for the future. Thanks, Nancy!

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  11. S J Brown says:

    Thanks for sharing. You have given me a lot to think about.

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  12. schillingklaus says:

    I like reading info-dumps; ergo, I write them massively and shamelessly. I won’t be deterred therefrom by the “show, don’t tell”-syndicate.

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