The ‘window’ approach to infodump

Recently, Reunion, the second novel in The Siaris Quartet, received a lovely review on Amazon from author KM Rockwood, who won a paperback copy of the novel in a Giveaway. Here’s what she had to say about it:

I started reading this book on my vacation, and then, in a chaos of delayed flights, unexpected layovers and general disarray, I managed to misplace it! I was afraid I had somehow abandoned it in Heathrow Airport, but before I bought another copy (and I knew I did have to finish it, one way or another) I asked if any of my traveling companions had it. To my delight, one did, but she refused to return it to me until she was done reading it.

This is a story that took me completely out of my familiar world, but planted me firmly in another one, and made it all seem real. The character development was good, the detailed descriptions that such a radically different setting needed were cleverly interspersed so it never felt like an information dump, and as you could probably tell from the first paragraph, the plot was so compelling that, once started, I absolutely had to finish it!

Thank you to Kathleen, and I’m glad she got the book back! I’m also very happy to hear Reunion was, to her writerly eye, free of ‘info-dumping’, as it’s an area I had to give a lot of attention. The original material for these novels started out as a history of a world, developed over decades to the tune of several thousand pages, for my own entertainment (or compulsion), and was basically an episodic saga with dramatized sections where inspiration sparked. Not the easiest starting point for a series of novels, but at that stage I didn’t have the confidence to throw it all away and ‘write fresh’. (Now, in the fourth and final book, I’ve done exactly that, and it’s wonderful…aaah).

When I aired the first draft-for-other-readers of Reunion in my writing group, the verdict was unanimous: it needed to be revised into consistent, close third person POV (point of view), pared back to a small number of viewpoint characters, without the plot/story being bogged down by large amounts of exposition. One of my buddies suggested the ‘pane of glass’ tactic (I wish I could remember who originated this idea, and if any of you know who it is, please let me know).

With this approach, you imagine all the exposition/information blocks in your novel as a single pane of glass. You next imagine dropping the glass so that it splinters into a thousand little pieces, and then reinsert only those info-slivers that are absolutely needed for reader understanding, into the text, in places where they ‘fit’ seamlessly, without breaking the flow of the action.

I found this a brilliant technique to work with, and still keep it in the back of my mind when writing. It is great to know that for one reader, at least, it worked!

If you’re a writer reading this, how do you handle exposition and information in your novels or stories?

images (1) - Copy

Reunion; The Siaris Quartet Book Two is available here.

Vow’s Answer: The Siaris Quartet Book Three will be released by Musa Publishing on December 27.

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2 thoughts on “The ‘window’ approach to infodump

  1. I really enjoyed the book, and it was a pleasure to write an accurate review.

    One of the biggest promblems I’ve encountered with my Jesse Damon Crime Novel series is presenting the same necessary information in each book so that someone who has just picked up this one will find out what they need to know, but the people who have been reading the series won’t be bored out of their minds. I can only hope Im doing a reasonable job of it! You seem to have it mastered, and that in a completely different world.

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  2. Thanks for the great review, Kathleen, much appreciated.
    Yes, I know what you mean, with any series of novels, how to present necessary background info to readers, as the series progresses, without getting repetitive for previous readers! It is a challenge, for sure….I address it by feeding those bits of info through different characters, in different situations, so that the same ‘info’ is coloured by a different viewing point that then puts a different slant on the same info, so a reader might (unconsciously) be in the ‘I hadn’t thought of it like that’ view, like when you see something familiar to you from a whole new perspective, it feels ‘fresh’, 🙂
    If it’s focused in your mind as an issue, then I’m sure you *are* doing a reasonable job of it!

    Like

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