This 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.
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).
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
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
historical romantic adventures (Celtic Fervour Series)
contemporary mystery thrillers (Take Me Now, Monogamy Twist, Topaz Eyes-finalist for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014)
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.