Infodump outrage
July 22, 2008

In each novel I always seem to reach a place, generally somewhere in the middle, but not always, where I commit an egregious infodump outrage—pages and pages of IN-FOR-MATION. Sometimes, I'll admit, I commit more than one of these. It doesn't do any good for me to edit it down in the first draft because if I try to limit or edit-as-I-go it stalls the novel. I just have to release that "breath I didn't know I was holding" and get on with it. Let it have its way and worry about fixing it after the first draft is done. 

I'm an organic writer and used to writing on the fly, but even so I do a great deal of worldbuilding before I commit to a novel. Mostly the big stuff, but also quite a bit of minutiae. Since I find it impossible to work from an outline, this is my hedge against jumping off the cliff and not being fast enough to "build my wings on the way down." In the day to day of writing, though, "stuff" is going to come up that I haven't sufficiently thought through. It took me awhile to figure out that these infodumps were how my psyche chose to work through them.  

My first drafts are always about me telling the story to myself. I am writing with an audience in mind and generally try to do a good, clean job, but ultimately, that first draft is mine—which is one of the reasons outlines don't work. If I've already told myself the story, I feel no drive to tell it again. I need to get caught up in the momentum of finding out and that's part of what propels me forward through the months of completing the draft. I know what happens in the end, but there are all these things in the middle that are surprises. These mysterious pathways remain obscure until I put one foot in front of the other heading for that far off ending, peeking like the pinnacle of a Mayan temple over the top of the rainforest. 

So I have to "tell" these pathways to myself, often in painful and unnecessary detail, in order to internalize them like all the other stuff. I no longer sweat the infodumps. If they remain infodumps in the second draft, then it's time to sweat. Time to get out the machete and hack my way through the creeping lianas and strangler figs to that temple in the sky, waiting for me to discover it and liberate it from its jungle covering.

Copyright © 2010 P.J. Thompson