May You Write Interesting Books – 4

I’m writing this as a series.  When it’s done I’ll compile it, clean it up and put it up for download in a few formats, for something like $3.99.  Might throw it on Amazon, too, if it looks worth it. Needless to say if you want to hit the donate button instead, and make a note on the paypal field
that it’s for May You Write Interesting Books, I’ll send you a copy when cleaned/compiled.  Oh, btw, I’ll also be taking suggestions for other seminars on writing.  I’ve considered doing something like a “self directed workshop” with suggested exercises you can do on your own or with your writing group.

Eat This Note When You’re Done Reading
I hear you screaming whining and stomping your feet.  “BUT” you say “What if my reader really needs info up front?  What if he needs to know that all the characters in the novel have three eyes?  Or are squid?”

Yes, I heard that other thought too “I know.  I’ll do a prologue.”  Put that thought down.  Possibly by shooting it through the head.  I think I’m the only reader left in the wild who actually reads prologues.  So if you really need to give that information, you need to make it part of the beginning and make it interesting.

Unless you’re Mark Twain, Heinlein, Jane Austen and the second coming of Shakespeare rolled into one, and unless your book is so incredibly odd it necessitates “level set” right up front, I wouldn’t in point of fact try to put the infodump RIGHT at the beginning.   I’d give the reader something to bite into first, before you reel them into your world and history and your rich social design.

But let’s say at some point you need to do an infodumpus of, at a minimum, two or three pages.  Sometimes it happens.  Like, if you’re writing a sequel and you can’t be sure your newly-landed reader has read any of your previous work.

The good news is that this happens to all of us, sooner or later, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  There are several ways to do it.

The first, and much simpler one is to bull through.  Sometimes the least obtrusive way to do things is to do them right up front and be done with them.  So, if you have to give the general plot of your last novel, do so, and quickly, then move on.

Of course, if you’re going to do that, it helps if you make the tone at least interesting or ironic.  Say, Tom from Draw One In The Dark could say something like “It wasn’t the first time I’d died, but…”  The words draw the reader in, even if you’re just infodumping.

Something else you can do is have the information you’re giving be a point of contention.  Say we were invaded by the Martians in 1940.  Make it be like our world, for instance, where we don’t know we were invaded by Martians in 1940.  Some guy says “Hey, we were invaded by Martians in 1940″ and the other one says “you’re crazy nuts, Bucko.  Never happened.”  Then reveal everything as arguments pro-and against.  This can sound like maid and buttler if done clumsily.  So, don’t do it clumsily.  Have the argument matter and be about something not just sound and fury.

The other option is disaster.  Make something happen that necessitates the information.  “Oh, no.  My house burned down, and I lost all the info on the Martian invasion.”  (Yeah, okay, lame.  Deal.)

Then there’s danger.  “John.  Eat this note as soon as you’ve read it.  We were invaded by Martians in 1940, but no one remembers it.  I shall explain as soon as… Quick.  Forget I said anything.  We’re in danger.”

Again, you have to make the danger real and make it matter to the plot.

Next is the ironic narration.  This is a variant on just hook them with words.  Think noir movie narration.  “I knew I was in trouble when I realized we’d been invaded by the martians in 1940.  But we haven’t been you say?  Oh, listen buddy” etc.  Of course, this means you have to do it through the ENTIRE book, or pretty close.  I almost or more or less did this with Darkship Thieves, less so with A Few Good Men, weirdly.

If all else fails and you must have a business meeting have the pope in the swimming pool.  This is a variant on the Pole dancer (when the Pope was a Pole, of course) or the poll dancer, and might be more effective at least for women.

I’ve explained Pope in the swimming pool before.  It’s a classical example.  You have your character have a talk with someone, but your character (say this is a hotel) is facing a window, while the other guy isn’t.  While the other guy is giving him all this information, your character is looking out the window at this BIZARRE scene, where the pope arrives at the swimming pool, undresses and goes for a swim.  And your character is thinking “uh?”  Of course, you’d have to explain it later.  Say a convention of Pope-impersonators is in town…

Needless to say it doesn’t have to be a pope.  It could be a poll dancer.  Or the Chimpendales guys en parade, or a dinosaur running across.  Or …  Think about it.  Just enough to keep it interesting.

Okay, this is fast, and tomorrow is Witchfinder but I’ll try to do a post demoing this in the style of my dialogue post.  Now I have to go mail gifts.

And d’ahlings, the most important thing?  Never say boring.  No, seriously.  We’re a people of words.  If your character thinks “this is boring” your reader just put the book down.

5 responses to “May You Write Interesting Books – 4

  1. Earth was invaded by Martians in 1950’s but after the dragons ate them all, the dragons made humans forget about the invasion and themselves. [Wink]

  2. It happened Sunday, October 30, 1938. It was covered up, of course – portrayed as an enfant terrible’s Halloween prank but it explains the events of the subsequent decade. I mean really, the most scientifically and philosophically advanced nation going off the rails? Who’d believe that???

    I can’t explain it fully, not now – I must disable this bomb before it implodes humanity’s last redoubt, and these quantum explosives do require some attention. But we’ve been fighting to get the truth out, me and the rest of resistance. Umm, mind holding this screwdriver for me? We were doing all right until they got Admiral H, but once Bob went down things got dicey. Ellison went over to the other side, but the British Doctor has marshalled the counter-offensive since ’63 — or AM 25, if you like — there, hold that spring right there …

  3. Okay, because I’m not feeling particularly creative, I’ll just follow these comments by saying that the info dump at the beginning of Citadel by John Ringo was exceptionally well done, enough to hook someone (er, me) who doesn’t like mil. SF.

  4. When Petra Alexandra had been a new recruit in the Guard, all cueball bald, her hair send home in a box, no way to hide what she was at six feet, four and 240 pounds, just beginning to get over the shock of Man places she’d never seen before, she’d imagined how she would get around — sneakily — in those places without being seen.

    It had been done many times before, she knew. All Pasa knew what Men did not; that social misfits and outcasts of the Troll population were spotted in remote places by men. They were given many names — Sasquatch, Yeti, Alma — but there was a single truth about them that appealed to Petra: they were Trolls who passed mostly unnoticed in close proximity to Men. From this, Pete developed the notion that she could do it, too.

  5. I just unexpectedly started a YA novel (unexpectedly, because I don’t think of myself as a YA author). It does indeed start with a prologue, but a Media Res prologue. There’s a secret I want the reader to know and KNOW that the protagonists DON’T know. I don’t exactly spell it out, but I make it obvious enough that any reader can likely figure it out and feel sympathy because the protagonists don’t realize how complicated their lives will be. And the secret itself is tied inextricably to an opening action scene. So the story starts with a break-in, a hunt, an escape, a fight, a death, and a last-minute revelation. Then 15 years layer, we meet the real protagonists.

    By analogy, imagine one of the modern retellings of Superman. The character’s story starts with Clark wondering why he’s different, why he can do all these strange things; but the reader knows, because he actually saw Krypton explode first, and he saw Kal-El’s rocket escape to Earth, and he saw the Kents raise Clark.

    Now in some retellings, they hide all that Krypton stuff. They let the reader discover it only as Clark discovers it. I’ve seen both approaches. I generally prefer the ones that start on Krypton.